The following sermon was preached by Canon Heitor Matheus, ICKSP, at St. Mary’s Oratory in Wausau, Wisconsin, on Pentecost Sunday. He has shared the text with OnePeterFive for publication.
The book of Apocalypse and the Liturgy of the Church enlighten each other. We can get to know more about the book of Apocalypse by paying attention to the Liturgy, and, at the same, we can discover many hidden treasures in the Liturgy by reading the book of Apocalypse. And I would like to bring to your attention a very meaningful verse of the book of Apocalypse: the verse six of chapter five.
Saint John says: “And I saw: and behold in the midst of the throne, and of the four animals, and in the midst of the ancients, a Lamb standing as it were slain, having seven horns and seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.”
This verse describes, in mystical words, the mystery of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the greatest treasure that we have on Earth. So let us now unfold the meaning of those words.
Saint John Saw the Throne of God
In the chapters 8 and 9 of the book of Apocalypse we learn that before the Throne of God there is an Altar. “And another angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of God” (8:3).
So the Throne of God and the Altar are like two sides of the same reality. One side is visible, while the other is invisible to us. The throne of God is the invisible reality behind the visible liturgy. Every time the priest ascends the steps of the Altar in order to offer the Holy Sacrifice, the door to heaven is opened (Rev 4:1) and we are placed before the Throne of God. The Throne of God and the Altar of the Sacrifice are united. The Altar is the visible part of the Throne; and the Throne is the invisible part of the Altar.
So Saint John saw the Throne, he saw the Altar.
The Four Animals and the Ancients
It is written that Saint John saw four animals, and these animals symbolize the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Saint Matthew is symbolized by the man, as he starts his Gospel with the genealogy, the human lineage of Our Lord. Saint Mark is represented by the Lion as his Gospel begins in the wilderness of the desert. Saint Luke is signified by the Ox as his Gospel starts in the Temple, place of Sacrifice. And the Eagle symbolizes Saint John, whose Gospel begins with the clear affirmation of the Divinity of the Lord, flying higher than the other Evangelists, as the eagle fly higher than the other birds. So the four animals signify the Four Gospels (and by them the whole New Testament is signified).
And, at the same time, Saint John saw what he calls the ancients, which clearly symbolizes the Patriarchs and Prophets, the Old Testament.
So Saint John saw the Old and the New Testament, from which we read during Mass.
The Lamb Standing As It Were Slain
And now we come to the center of the vision, we come to what is at the center of the Altar: a Lamb, standing, as it were slain. The lamb is said to be standing because he is alive, but at the same time he is as it were slain, because he is in state of immolation. We all know who this Lamb is. It is Jesus Christ, Our Lord, who in His humanity became the Victim of the Sacrifice of propitiation for the sins of the entire world. And here we can see that the sacrifices of the Old Law were just a pale prefiguration of this great Sacrifice, which is the reality which was announced from the beginning. The Lamb of God was physically sacrificed on the Cross. But after His death, He came back to life. So the Lamb who was dead, is alive, now and forever.
However, He is said to be in state of immolation, because the Lord is, until the end of times, mystically immolated on the Altar. At the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the Lord is present in state of immolation because of the double consecration: the body is separated from the blood, which signifies His immolation, His death. So Saint John was speaking about the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. And we should not be surprised to hear that Saint John saw the Altar, the Scriptures and the Blessed Sacrament. He was a priest himself, so we was very familiar with these realities. As I said before, he was describing, with mystical words, the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
My brethren, what we have seen until now is quite familiar to many of us: Our Lord as the Lamb of God, mystically sacrificed on the Altar. But what we still have to say concerning the vision of Saint John may be, for some, like a revelation.
The “Seven Spirits of God” Sent Forth into All the Earth
So Saint John continues with the description of his vision. He saw that the lamb had seven horns and seven eyes. The seven horns symbolize the fullness of His power, and the seven eyes signify the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. What we call the seven spirits of God are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. And the Lamb of God communicates these gifts to us also during the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
It is amazing to see that everything in the Traditional Liturgy of the Church is so beautiful, so perfect, that we have to conclude that the Liturgy is indeed a work of the Holy Spirit.
During the Holy Sacrifice, from the Introit to the Final Blessing, the priest gives seven mystical salutations to the faithful. Seven times he says “Dominus vobiscum,” intending to communicate, at each greeting, by the will of God, the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The first mystical salutation takes place right before the Collect, and it communicates the Spirit of Wisdom. It happens right before the prayer because the Gift of Wisdom teaches us what to ask from God. The second mystical salutation happens before the Gospel. And it communicates the Spirit of Understanding, so we may understand the word of God in its fullness, in all its deepness, so we may put it into practice. The third mystical salutation takes place before the Offertory and it communicates the Spirit of Counsel, so we may discern the will of God, what He may be asking us to offer to Him. The fourth mystical salutation takes place before the Preface and it communicates the Spirit of Fortitude, so we may be strong enough to follow the Lamb of God in the way of the cross, strong enough to accomplish all the sacrifices that God may require from us. The fifth mystical salutation takes place before the Agnus Dei and it communicates the Spirit of Knowledge, so we may realize the vanity of all the things of this world, and not be attached to anything which is not eternal. And this is the only way to have peace. That is why this salutation is Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum. The sixth mystical salutation takes place right after Holy Communion, and it communicates the Spirit of Piety, the spirit of filial love and devotion towards God, especially in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. And the seventh mystical salutation takes place before the Final Blessing and it communicates the Spirit of Holy Fear, so we may respect God, so we may run away from sin and do what is right. And the Final Blessing seals in us all the spiritual gifts we have received.
My brethren, we can see the realization of that verse of the book of Apocalypses in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Holy Sacrifice, we receive the flesh of the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed for our salvation. But we cannot forget that in the Holy Sacrifice we also receive the communication of the Holy Spirit, the Seven Gifts.
Every Mass is Calvary, but it is also Pentecost.
So next time we are present at the Holy Sacrifice, let us be attentive when the priest says Dominus vobiscum. These are mystical salutations which intend to communicate graces from God. And let the faithful respond those salutations with true charity, wishing the same graces to the priest: Et cum spiritu tuo. Amen.
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