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Musical Musings: Liturgy

God my Savior

by Pope John Paul II

During his general audience in Saint Peter's Square on Wednesday, October 13, 2004, Pope John Paul II presented a meditation on "the magnificent icon of Christ" found in Saint Paul's Letter to the Ephesians [1:3-10]. This is found in the liturgy as the New Testament Canticle for Evening Prayer (Vespers) every Monday night. This meditation is part of a long series of teachings by John Paull II on the psalms and canticles of the Liturgy of the Hours.

Praise be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has bestowed on us in Christ
every spiritual blessing in the heavens.

God chose us in him
before the world began
to be holy and blameless in his sight.

He predestined us
to be his adopted sons through Jesus Christ,
such was his will and pleasure,
that all might praise the glorious favor he has bestowed on us in his beloved.

In him and through his blood, we have been redeemed,
and our sins forgiven,
so immeasurably generous
is God's favor to us.

God has given us the wisdom
to understand fully the mystery,
the plan he was pleased
to decree in Christ.

A plan to be carried out in Christ,
in the fullness of time,
to bring all things into one in him,
in the heavens and on earth.

We have before us the solemn hymn of blessing that opens the Letter to the Ephesians, a page of great theological and spiritual depth, a marvelous expression of faith and perhaps also of the liturgy of the Church in apostolic times.

The canticle is presented four times during all the weeks into which the Liturgy of Vespers is divided. The faithful may thus contemplate and savor this grandiose image of Christ that is not only the heart of Christian spirituality and worship, but also the principle of unity and of a sense of the universe and of history in its entirety. The blessing rises from humanity to the Father, in the heavenly places (cf. v. 3), starting from the saving work of the Son.

God's Eternal Plan

It begins with God's eternal plan which Christ is called to accomplish. In this design, our having been chosen as "holy and blameless" shines out first and foremost not so much at the ritual level – as these adjectives used in the Old Testament for sacrificial worship might seem to suggest – but rather "in love" (cf. v. 4). Therefore, it is a question of holiness and of moral, existential, inner purity.

However, the Father has a further goal in mind for us: through Christ he destines us to receive the gift of filial dignity, becoming sons in the Son and brothers and sisters of Jesus (cf. Rom 8: 15, 23; 9: 4; Gal 4: 5). This gift of grace is poured out through "the beloved Son," the Only-Begotten One par excellence (cf. vv. 5-6).

A Radical Transformation

It is in this way that the Father works a radical transformation in us: our complete liberation from evil, "redemption through the blood" of Christ, "the forgiveness of our sins" through "the riches of his grace" (cf. v. 7). Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, a supreme act of love and solidarity, bathes us in superb light, "wisdom and insight" (cf. v. 8). We are transfigured creatures: our sin taken away, we fully know the Lord. And since knowledge, in biblical terms, is an expression of love, it introduces us more deeply into the "mystery" of the divine will (cf. v. 9).

A "mystery," namely, a transcendent and perfect project that contains a wonderful saving plan: "to unite all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth." (v. 10) The Greek text suggests that Christ has become the kefalaion, that is, the cardinal point, the central axis on which the whole of creation converges and acquires meaning. The same Greek word refers to another, dear to the Letters to the Ephesians and to the Colossians: kefalé, "head," which indicates the role carried out by Christ in the Body of the Church.

Here the gaze is broader and more universal, although it includes the more specific ecclesial dimension of Christ's work. He reconciled "to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Col 1: 20).

Praise and Thanksgiving

Let us end our reflection with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving for the redemption that Christ brought about in us. We do so with the words of a text that has been preserved on an ancient papyrus of the fourth century.

We call on you, Lord God.
You know all things, nothing escapes you, O Master of Truth.
You have created the universe and you keep watch over every being.
You guide on the path of truth those who walk in the darkness and the shadow of death.
You desire to save all people and make them know the truth.
All together, we offer you praise and hymns of thanksgiving.
The person praying continues:
You have redeemed us, with the precious and immaculate Blood of your Only Son, from all corruption.
You have freed us from the devil and have obtained for us glory and freedom.
We were dead and you have made us, body and soul, to be reborn in the Spirit.
We were unclean, and you have purified us.
We pray therefore, Father of mercies and God of every consolation: strengthen us in our vocation, in adoration and in faithfulness.
The prayer ends with the invocation:
Fortify us, O benevolent Lord, with your strength.
Illuminate our souls with your consolation....
Grant us to look at, seek and contemplate the goods of heaven and not those of the earth.
Thus, by the power of your grace, glory will be rendered to the Almighty and most holy power worthy of all praise, in Jesus Christ, the beloved Son, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

    (A. Hamman, Preghiere dei Primi Cristiani, Milan 1955, pp. 92-94)

See also Canticle of the Lamb

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