Reconciliation Lectionary: Revelation 21:1-12

mary-the-penitent.jpgThr fourth of four selections from the Book of Revelation. The first five verses were proclaimed just last weekend at Sunday Mass on the 5th weekend of Easter. And verses 10-12 contribute to a longer text the following Sunday. We’ve got a lot of words to digest, so let’s get to it.

Verses 1 through 12 are a longer passage provided in Appendix II of the Rite of Penance, a sample penitential service for the season of Advent. A shorter version, just the first eight verses are to be found in the main seciton of the rite, number 175. The light colored text below indicates the extra verses.

Here’s the start of it:

Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth.
The former heaven and the former earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.
He will dwell with them and they will be his people
and God himself will always be with them as their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes,
and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain,
for the old order has passed away.”

And so far, this is a great reading for a funeral, too. As popular as many of the selections I hear. God’s desired intimacy with his people, and especially with penitents (as Luke 15 tells it) is something to always keep in mind.

The One who sat on the throne said,
“Behold, I make all things new.”
Then he said, “Write these words down,
for they are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me, “They are accomplished.
I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the beginning and the end.
To the thirsty I will give a gift
from the spring of life-giving water.
The victor will inherit these gifts,
and I shall be his God,
and he will be my son.
But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved,
murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers,
and deceivers of every sort,
their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur,
which is the second death.”

Pastoral reasons would seemingly dictate these last verses not be included in a funeral. But for the living penitent, they are an obvious part of the canon of Christian Scripture.

Look at that laundry list of sins:

  • cowardice
  • unfaithful
  • depravity
  • murder
  • lack of chastity
  • sorcery
  • worship of false gods
  • deception

Not exactly the seven deadlies. But very serious material here. So … if we are thinking about the use of this passage, are we aiming at form I, with a single serious penitent caught up in one or more of these? That would be my pastoral sense. Most Catholics, who routinely celebrate individual confession regularly with a priest, are not bringing material to the sacrament like this. Not usually. (If they were, there would be some question about the particular efficacy of the sacrament, one might think.)

This passage, plus the verses that follow, are suggested for an Advent Penance Liturgy. I’d want a good pastoral reason for including this and not another passage. That list of serious sins can also be an occasion for many penitents to breathe with relief, “Thank goodness I’m not caught up in crap like that!” Which isn’t the mood I’d want to set.

One of the seven angels who held the seven bowls
filled with the seven last plagues
came and said to me,
“Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
He took me in spirit to a great, high mountain
and showed me the holy city Jerusalem
coming down out of heaven from God.
It gleamed with the splendor of God.
Its radiance was like that of a precious stone,
like jasper, clear as crystal.
It had a massive, high wall, with twelve gates
where twelve angels were stationed
and on which names were inscribed,
the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel.

A passage from Revelation during an Advent liturgy. That seems to fit better during the early days of the season when the Lectionary for Mass proclaims the Second Coming and believers are urged to prayer, penance, and preparation for the end. This last section was proclaimed this past weekend at Mass. Our homilist this weekend touched on it. The beauty of the city is almost beyond words. It’s certainly beyond an ordinary description.

As horrible as sin is, the final elevation of believers is indeed in the image of this city. The splendor of God is the cause of our joy and beauty. But God will make us the bride of Christ nonetheless. It is our destiny, should be align ourselves with the Lamb and the Gospel he preaches.

In the end Revelation 21:1-12 gives us a long arc on which to reflect. A message of comfort and compassion. Followed by a grave warning. Concluding with a message of eternal joy. It’s a three movement symphony packed into not so many words at all, when you think about it.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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