Monday, December 01, 2014

The Book of Revelation: Guide to Catholic Worship

According to Joseph Ratzinger, the last book of the Bible, Revelation or the Apocalypse of St. John, is showing forth a kind of “archetypal liturgy” to which all our earthly liturgies must bear resemblance:
With its vision of the cosmic liturgy, in the midst of which stands the Lamb who was sacrificed, the Apocalypse has presented the essential contents of the eucharistic sacrament in an impressive form that sets a standard for every local liturgy. From the point of view of the Apocalypse, the essential matter of all eucharistic liturgy is its participation in the heavenly liturgy; it is from thence that it necessarily derives its unity, its catholicity, and its universality. (Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, 110-11)
In a General Audience on November 3, 2004, Pope John Paul II spoke about the Canticle in chapter 5 of Revelation:
The canticle just proposed to us . . . is part of the solemn opening vision of Revelation, which presents a sort of heavenly liturgy to which we also, still pilgrims on earth, associate ourselves during our ecclesial celebrations. The hymn of the Book of Revelation that we meditate today concludes with a final acclamation cried out by “myriads of myriads” of angels (see Rev 5:11). It refers to the “the Lamb slain,” to whom is attributed the same glory as to God the Father, as “Worthy is the Lamb … to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength” (5:12). It is the moment of pure contemplation, of joyful praise, of the song of love to Christ in his paschal mystery. This luminous image of the heavenly glory is anticipated in the Liturgy of the Church. In fact, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, the Liturgy is an “action” of the whole Christ (Christus totus). Those who celebrate it here, live already in some way, beyond the signs, in the heavenly liturgy, where the celebration is totally communion and feast. It is in this eternal liturgy that the Spirit and the Church make us participate, when we celebrate the mystery of salvation in the sacraments (see Nos. 1136 and 1139).
In The Lamb’s Supper, Scott Hahn writes: “I suspect that God revealed heavenly worship in earthly terms so that humans—who, for the first time, were invited to participate in heavenly worship—would know how to do it” (122). Hahn goes on to suggest that the book of Revelation offered help to the nascent church in discerning what elements of Old Covenant worship to retain within the new worship of the New Covenant, inasmuch as the new both concludes and includes the old. In short: the Church can, and should, have buildings, ministers, candlesticks, chalices, incense, vestments, because her worship, being ordered to and derived from Jesus Christ, is the perfection of all that the old worship pointed to with these typological symbols, as yet to be fulfilled. They do not cease to be the symbols we need in order to perceive and enter into communion with Christ; they acquire a new purpose as symbols that point to a reality accomplished, a salvation won on the Cross, a glory shared with the faithful who may now enter heaven.

Who is the central figure of Revelation? The slain and risen Lamb, the Paschal or Passover Lamb that is given to us in the holy Eucharist, instituted by Jesus at the last meal he celebrated with the disciples before His atoning death. What is the central activity depicted in the book? Worship—either true (directed to God and the Lamb) or idolatrous (directed to Babylon, the beast, the whore, etc.). And what is the central metaphor? Marriage. You are either united as “one flesh” with the Lamb, washed clean in His blood and feasting at His table, or you are fornicating with the devil; the two cities are contrasted as a whore (the old, unfaithful Jerusalem) and a virgin bride (the new Jerusalem, the Church). The very term apokalypsis means “unveiling.” At the time Revelation was written, this term was used to describe, among other things, the unveiling of the virgin bride as part of the wedding festivities.

Barna da Siena, Mystical Marriage of St Catherine
In a nutshell, the book of Revelation is about true worship of the true God, a mystical marriage with Him; and this is brought about through the Church’s worship, that is, the sacramental life, especially Baptism and the Eucharist. Apart from this life, there is error, folly, despair, horror, and destruction—the history of fallen mankind, which wages war against the Lamb. (It is interesting to note that this book has received a title of honor that was subsequently extended to, or rather, recognized in, the entire body of Scripture, namely, “revelation”; and it is not incidental that not just this book, called “Revelation,” is about true worship of the true God, but all of Scripture is about true worship of the true God. Christianity is a religion principally and fundamentally concerned with adoring, loving, and serving the one true God, in which man’s salvation and the very content of love of neighbor consists. Put differently, there is no such thing as an “ethical reduction” or a “philosophical distillation” of Christianity; it is inherently bound up with sacrifice and sacrament, by which we profess our faith in God and yield ourselves to Him in love.)

Now, why does Sacred Scripture end with the Book of Revelation? The reason is as simple as it is profound: Revelation is not merely or even primarily the closure of a written book but the beginning of, or aperture to, something else that is greater than Scripture: the living worship of the living Body of Christ. This is the subtle but poignant response, far ahead of time, to Luther’s invention of sola scriptura: Revelation ends the Bible because it depicts and invites us to the Eucharistic banquet of the Lamb, which is where the things spoken about in Scripture are really present, in their fullest intensity. The written signs lead us to the reality signified; the bread of the word leads to the bread of life, the book to the altar. As Hahn writes:
For most of the early Christians it was a given: the Book of Revelation was incomprehensible apart from the liturgy. … It was only when I began attending Mass that the many parts of this puzzling book suddenly began to fall into place. Before long, I could see the sense in Revelation’s altar (8:3), its robed clergymen (4:4), candles (1:12), incense (5:8), manna (2:17), chalices (ch. 16), Sunday worship (1:10), the prominence it gives to the Blessed Virgin Mary (12:1-6), the “Holy, Holy, Holy” (4:8), the Gloria (15:3-4), the Sign of the Cross (14:1), the Alleluia (19:1, 3, 6), the readings from Scripture (chs. 2-3), and the “Lamb of God” (many, many times). These are not interruptions in the narrative or incidental details; they are the very stuff of the Apocalypse. (The Lamb’s Supper, 66-67)
In these final pages, when we behold the new Jerusalem descending from heaven, where does it descend to? Mount Zion, that is, the place where Jesus had eaten His last Passover and instituted the Eucharist, where the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, where the Christians in AD 70 were spared Roman destruction. “In other words, the new Jerusalem came to earth, then as now, in the place where Christians celebrated the supper of the Lamb” (Hahn, 102). Liturgy is anticipated Parousia, the ‘already’ entering our ‘not yet.’

If Joseph Ratzinger, John Paul II, and Scott Hahn are all correct in what they are saying—and one may wish to note that the connection between the earthly liturgy and the heavenly is a prominent element in the theology of liturgy offered in Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium—this becomes a powerful and truly unanswerable argument for the restoration of the sacred, the recovery of signs and symbols in every aspect of the liturgy from architecture to sacred music, the preservation or reestablishment of continuity with traditional Catholic worship, and the overwhelming need to enrich and “celestialize” the often sterile and impoverished vocabulary of contemporary liturgical life. The music we hear, for instance, should be awe-inspiring, or at very least, effective in elevating the mind to divine things, so that we may catch a faint echo of angelic music; the church building should be an evocation of the heavenly city, the sanctuary a magnificent image of the Holy of Holies. The ceremonies, in their solemn and ordered splendor, should draw the mind upwards into the majesty and mystery of God.

If we do not strive to have and do these things to the extent that it lies within our power, we are not just failing to implement Vatican II (a failure that happens so regularly it has ceased to attract notice or comment); we are not just running away from a tradition stretching back 2,000 years (and even longer, if we taken into account the Jewish background), bad enough as that would be. We are showing that we have not understood, assimilated, and embraced the very teaching of Divine Revelation. We are, in a sense, rejecting the root of our religion as such.

There is good reason, then, to return to a careful study of the Book of Revelation and to ask what this book is really teaching us about our life as Christians here and now and about the essential vocation of the Church, which is the glorification of God and the sanctification of souls in time of tribulation.

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