Beasts, Plagues, and the Apocalyptic Liturgy

The throne thunders and flickers with lightning. In front are seven torches and a sea of crystal. The occupant of the throne is unseen—at least not at first. All around the throne are four creatures. One looks like a lion. Another looks like an eagle. All of them have six wings covered with eyes.

The creatures are speaking about the holiness of God. Meanwhile, two dozen elders are bowing down before the thrown and throwing their crowns to the ground as they join in the chorus of praise.

Readers may recognize the scene as the opening of Revelation 5.

It’s also something every Catholic witnesses at the beginning of the Mass. It may not seem like it, but scholars say the scene described above corresponds to the procession from the sacristy to the altar while the entrance antiphon is sung.

It’s not just a freak instance, but one example of many parallels between the events recounted in fantastic detail in the Book of Revelation and the liturgy we experience. As incredible as it sounds, scholars say that this book about beasts, plagues, warring angels, falling stars and horse-like locusts is a commentary on the liturgy. More to the point, one could also say it’s a depiction of the heavenly liturgy itself in which our earthly liturgy participates.

The parallels are indeed striking. A version of the Gloria appears in Revelation 15:3-4, right before the four living creatures hand over bowls filled with divine fury to seven angels. The collect corresponds to the prayer of the elders. The book also recounts the Liturgy of the Word. It’s depicted in Revelation 5 where the seven-horned and seven-eyed slain lamb is the only one on heaven and earth who can read from the scroll. And then there’s Revelation 10, where a giant angel with a sun-bright face and feet like pillars of fire descends from heaven bearing a small scroll.

The same goes for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which can be seen in hidden manna (ch. 2), the bowls of divine fury (chs. 15 and 16), the worship of the Lamb of God (ch. 5), and the grapes that turn into a field of blood stretching out for two hundred miles (ch. 14). Also, the Sanctus sung before the consecration is mirrored in the song of the four living creatures in Revelation 4.

And that’s just a highly abbreviated list. One writer has compiled dozens of parallels between the liturgy and Eucharist. To see the full list—which matches each part of the Mass to the corresponding chapter and verse citation in Revelation—click here.

One might ask, why does it take a vision of beasts, a dragon, and the end of the world to explain what is happening at the Mass?

The answer is actually quite simple. At the Mass, we hear the very words of God Himself and then encounter His Real Presence under the figure of bread and wine. As awesome as the beasts, battles, and woes of Revelation are, nothing could be more awesome than such an encounter with God.

Revelation also tells us something more about the Mass itself. It depicts the liturgy as the center of cosmic history, as the chief battleground between God, Mary (see ch. 12), his saints and angels against Satan and his allies for the souls of mankind. In other words, the Mass, to paraphrase one theologian, is the working out of the Incarnation in time and space.

As the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology puts it, “Thus far in our study, we’ve seen how the Bible and the Mass were made for each other. The ‘destination’ that all of Scripture points to is the Mass. And the Mass is the Bible in action—right before our eyes the Scripture’s saving truths are ‘actualized,’ made actual or real.”

Want to learn more about Revelation and the liturgy? The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology has a helpful study guide here. Also, check out Stratford Caldecott’s book, All Things Made New: the Mysteries of the World in Christ (available here). For those who don’t want to wait for the book, an abridged version is available here.

Stephen Beale

By

Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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  • Ralberta

    The author above writes: “One might ask, why does it take a vision of beasts, a dragon, and the end of the world to explain what is happening at the Mass?’

    The answer is not either/or—about the “end times” OR about the Liturgy. In fact, we know for certain that the early Church Fathers understood very clearly the apocalyptic dimensions of the book of Revelation, and furthermore, as a book referring to events in the future.

    But far from being in conflict with the author’s conclusions above, the answer is that Revelation refers to BOTH the Liturgy and to apocalyptic events. The key to understanding this lies in a passage from the Catechism where the Magisterium teaches that the Church “will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection.” (CCC, n.677). That is, we will join in the “sacrifice” of Jesus by following in His steps of martyrdom, both white and red.

    Therefore, what we see in Revelation is the unfolding (and “apocalypse” means “unveiling” as in a bride) of the Church’s own passion as she follows her Lord’s, which is patterned in the Liturgy. Indeed, we see how it is those who are beheaded for Christ who, in the end, rise to reign with Him (Rev 20:1-6).

    The Mass is the celebration and memorial of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, made present on the altar. The book of Revelation is the passion, death, and resurrection of the martyrs who, upon entering into the pattern of Christ’s own sacrifice, bring the “body of Christ” to “full stature,” and indeed become a bride “without stain or blemish” prepared to meet her Lord at the end of time.

    Revelation is about both the Liturgy and the “end times,” for they are inseparable realities.

  • jmjriz

    Speak about a battle and speak of the Book of Revelation and its connections to the Mass and the Sacrament of Marriage and you must consider the covenant and the rainbow. Now you see why the LGBT lobby uses and abuses this powerful symbol.

    There is far too little contemplation of what really lies just beyond
    the rainbow. Sacred Scripture is abundantly clear on the matter. We see
    God’s rainbow in Genesis (Α) and in Revelation (Ω) and in each instance
    the bow relates to God’s Covenant with mankind. Jesus Christ reigns in
    heaven surrounded by this sign of sacred beauty, wonder and promise.
    His glorious return in the clouds just might be preceded by one final
    rainbow.

    Genesis 9:8-13, 16
    Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by
    the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

    “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting
    covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on
    the earth.”

    Ezekiel 1:28
    Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so
    was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance
    of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on
    my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

    Ecclesiasticus 43:11
    Look upon the rainbow, and bless him that made it: it is very beautiful in
    its brightness. It encompasseth the heaven about with the circle of its
    glory, the hands of the most High have displayed it.

    Matthew 24:30
    Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the
    tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming
    on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

    Revelation 4:3
    And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.

    Revelation 5:6
    And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I
    saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and
    with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all
    the earth.

    Revelation 10:1
    Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.

    We must pray and pray constantly.

    Remember what Jesus told us from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

    GOD BLESS AMERICA! MARANATHA!

  • Stephen Beale

    Ralberta, thanks for your well-stated comment! I think we’re in complete agreement. I did not posit an either-or when it comes to the Mass and the end times. I agree, the two are completely related. This article was really meant as a teaser to draw in more people to the book. There are so many issues that could be discussed just even by way of introduction and your point about the meaning of “apocalypse” is just one example.

    Stephen

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