In this year’s Easter readings we hear something different. Usually the second reading is taken from the letters of one of the Apostles such as Peter, Paul or James. In the Year of Luke, the second reading for the second through seventh Easter weeks is taken from the Book of Revelation. This book is attributed to the Apostle John and records visions he saw during his exile on Patmos.
Today’s selection gives us a description of the “heavenly liturgy,”
I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. …They stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple.
The vision is one of great celebration. As the multitude stands before God’s throne so we gather before the altar at Mass. Like the multitude we celebrate, make much of what God has done throughout history and even now is doing in our lives. One of our tasks in this work of liturgy is to worship (praise and thank) God. The multitude pictured in this reading are a “cloud of witnesses,” all whom have lived and died on earth and now are in heaven. We celebrate that more particularly on Nov. 1, the feast of All Saints. And we believe that our prayer at Mass is joined with theirs — that we are worshiping God together with them. These “witnesses” also pray for us — we are still connected with them in the Communion of Saints, even though we cannot see them.
The “Sanctus,” or “Holy, Holy,” in particular reminds us of this connection.
“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts (we translate this as Lord God of Power and Might). Heaven and earth are full of your glory.” These words come from a vision given to the prophet Isaiah, which is recorded in the Old Testament. It is the song of the angels who surround God’s throne. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest” was proclaimed as Christ entered Jerusalem shortly before his death. Just as Christ was acclaimed then, so now we acclaim him at Mass and the saints acclaim the Lamb during the “heavenly liturgy.”
It is an awesome thing that we come to do at Mass. We join not only with each other in our particular churches, not only with other Catholics throughout the world, but also with all the angels and saints, known and unknown, all of us together.
Johnston is the former director of worship at St. Francis of Assisi Parish,