Wednesday, 10 December 2003 - Chapter 19, verses 1-7 of the Book of Revelation

"Let us rejoice and be glad!'

87 Ap 19,1-7

1. Continuing with the series of Psalms and Canticles that constitute the ecclesial prayer of Vespers, we come across a hymn-like passage from Chapter 19 of the Book of Revelation that consists of a sequence of alleluias and acclamations.

Behind these joyful invocations is the dramatic lament intoned in the previous chapter by the kings, merchants and seafaring men at the fall of imperial Babylon, the city of evil and oppression, symbol of the persecution unleashed against the Church.

2. To counter this cry that rises from the earth, a joyful chorus of a liturgical nature rings out in the heavens, and in addition to the alleluia, repeats the amen. The various acclamations, similar to antiphons, that the Liturgy of Vespers now combines in a single hymn, are actually put on the lips of various figures in the Apocalypse text. We discover first of all a "great multitude", made up of the hosts of angels and saints (cf. Ap 19,1-3). Then, we can single out the voice of "the twenty-four elders" and "four living creatures", symbolic figures who seem to be the priests of this heavenly liturgy of praise and thanksgiving (cf. Ap 19,4). Lastly, a single voice is raised (cf. Ap 19,5), which in turn involves in the canticle the "great multitude" with which it began (cf. Ap 19,6-7).

3. In future stages of our journey we will have the opportunity to describe the individual antiphons of this grand and festive hymn of praise by several voices. Let us now make do with two observations. The first concerns the introductory acclamation which states: "Salvation, glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just" (Ap 19,1-2).

At the heart of this joyful invocation is the representation of God's decisive intervention in history: the Lord is not indifferent like an impassive emperor, remote from human events. As the Psalmist says, "The Lord's throne is in heaven; his eyes behold, his searching glance is on mankind" (Ps 11,4 [10]).

4. Indeed, his gaze is a source of action, for he intervenes and demolishes overbearing and oppressive empires, brings down the proud who challenge him and judges those who perpetrate evil. Again, it is the Psalmist who describes in picturesque images how God bursts into history (cf. Ps 11,7 [10]), referred to by the author of the Apocalypse in the previous chapter (cf. Ap 18,1-24), the terrible divine intervention regarding Babylon, uprooted from her centre and hurled into the sea. Our canticle mentions this act in a passage that is not part of the celebration of Vespers (cf. Ap 19,2-3).

Our prayer, therefore, must above all invoke and praise divine action, the Lord's effective justice, his glory, which he obtains by triumphing over evil. God makes himself present in history, taking the side of the righteous and victims, exactly as the brief and essential acclamation of the Apocalypse declares and the canticles of the Psalms so often repeat (cf. Ps 146,6-9 [145]).

5. Let us emphasize another theme in our Canticle. It is developed in the final acclamation and is a dominant motif in the Apocalypse itself: "The marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready" (Ap 19,7). Christ and the Church, the Lamb and the Bride, are in a profound communion of love.

Let us seek to make this spousal mystery shine out through the poetic witness of a great Father of the Syrian Church, St Ephrem, who lived in the fourth century. Using symbolically the sign of the Wedding at Cana (cf. Jn 2,1-11), he introduces the town itself, personified, in order to praise Christ for the great gift received:

88 "Together with my guests I will thank him for he has deemed me worthy to invite him: He who is the heavenly Bridegroom, who descended and invited all; and I too was invited to come to his pure wedding feast. Before the peoples I will recognize him as the Bridegroom; there is none other like him. His wedding chamber has been ready for centuries, and it is richly decked out and lacks nothing: not like the wedding feast of Cana where he provided for all that was lacking" (Inni sulla Verginitá, 33, 3: L'Arpa dello Spirito, Rome, 1999, pp. 73-74).

6. In another hymn that also sings of the Wedding at Cana, St Ephrem stresses that Christ, invited to the weddings of others (here, precisely, that of the newly married couple of Cana), wanted to celebrate the feast of his wedding: the wedding with his bride, which is every faithful soul. "Jesus, you were invited to someone else's wedding feast, the spouses of Cana; here, instead, is your own pure and beautiful feast: it gladdens our days because your guests also, O Lord, have need of your songs: let your harp fill everything! The soul is your bride, the body your nuptial chamber, your guests are the senses and thoughts. And if only one body is a wedding feast for you, the whole Church is your nuptial banquet!" (Inni sulla Fede, 14, 4-5: op. cit., p. 27).

To the English-speaking visitors

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Ireland and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newly-weds.

Dear friends, in Advent, a time of waiting that prepares us for Christmas, Mary, the Virgin of hope, is especially present. To her I entrust you all, so that you may prepare yourselves to welcome Christ who comes to establish his Kingdom of justice and peace.


Wednesday, 17 December 2003 - Reflection on Advent

"The kingdom of God is at hand!'

1. "Know that the kingdom of God is at hand; be sure that he will not delay". These words from today's Liturgy express the atmosphere of our anxious and prayerful preparation for the Christmas celebrations near at hand.

Advent keeps alive our expectation of Christ who will come to visit us with his salvation, fully establishing his Kingdom of justice and peace. The annual evocation of the Messiah's birth in Bethlehem renews in believers' hearts the certainty that God keeps his promises. Advent is, therefore, a powerful proclamation of hope, which deeply touches our personal and communitarian experience.

2. Every man and woman dreams of a more just and supportive world where a dignified standard of life and peaceful coexistence harmonize relations between individuals and peoples. All too often, however, this is not the case. Obstacles, disputes and difficulties of various kinds burden our life and sometimes almost overwhelm it. The strength and courage required to strive for good risk yielding to evil, which seems at times to have the upper hand. It is especially at these moments that hope comes to our rescue. The mystery of Christmas, which we will relive in a few days' time, assures us that God is the Emmanuel - God-with-us. This is why we must never feel alone. He is close to us, he became one of us, born from the virginal womb of Mary. He shared our pilgrimage on earth, guaranteeing us the attainment of that joy and peace to which we aspire from the depths of our being.

3. The season of Advent focuses on a second element of hope which more generally concerns the meaning and value of life. We often ask ourselves: who are we, where are we going, what is the meaning of all we do on earth, what awaits us after death?

There are, certainly, good and honest objectives: the search for greater material well-being, the pursuit of ever more advanced social, scientific and economic goals, a better fulfilment of personal expectations and those of the community. But do these goals suffice to satisfy the most intimate aspirations of our soul?

Today's Liturgy invites us to broaden our vision and to contemplate the Wisdom of God that comes from the Most High and is able to reach the ends of the world, disposing all things "with gentleness and strength" (cf. Responsorial Antiphon).

From the Christian people springs forth spontaneously the invocation: "Come, Lord, and make no delay".

4. Lastly, a third characteristic element of Christian hope deserves emphasis, as the season of Advent makes quite clear. Advent and especially Christmas are a reminder to the person who rises above daily affairs and seeks communion with God that it was God who took the initiative of coming to meet him. In becoming a child, God assumed our human nature and established once and for all his covenant with the whole of humanity.

We can thus conclude that the meaning of Christian hope, presented anew by Advent, is that of confident expectation, of hardworking willingness and joyful openness to the encounter with the Lord. He came to Bethlehem to remain with us for ever.

Let us therefore nourish these days of immediate preparation for the Birth of Christ with the light and warmth of hope, dear brothers and sisters. This is the wish I offer to you here present and to your loved ones. I entrust it to the motherly intercession of Mary, Model and Pillar of our hope.

A good Advent Season and a Happy Christmas to you all!

90 To the English-speaking visitors

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including the groups from Australia and the United States. I wish you a joyful preparation for Christmas. Upon you and your families I invoke the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ who comes among us. Happy Christmas!

To young people, the sick and the newly-weds

Lastly, I thank the young people, the sick and the newly-weds for coming to this meeting. A few days before Christmas, I hope that this solemn feast will bring comfort and hope to everyone.

The Christmas tree in St Peter's Square

I now greet the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I offer you a special greeting, dear faithful of the Valle d'Aosta, together with your Pastor, Bishop Giuseppe Anfossi, and the civil Authorities who have accompanied you. I always remember with deep gratitude your cordial hospitality during my Visits to the beautiful mountains of your Region, to which I feel deeply united. Today you have come to offer me the large Christmas tree set up in St Peter's Square, and the trees that stand in this hall, in the Apostolic Palace and in other parts of the Vatican. They are a gift from your Autonomous Region of the Valle d'Aosta! Thank you! I am especially grateful to those who have made possible this great tribute to Christmas that will remind visitors and pilgrims of the birth of Jesus, Light of the world.