68 By love, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. He has thus provided the definitive, superabundant answer to the questions that man asks himself about the meaning and purpose of his life.
69 God has revealed himself to man by gradually communicating his own mystery in deeds and in words.
70 Beyond the witness to himself that God gives in created things, he manifested himself to our first parents, spoke to them and, after the fall, promised them salvation (cf. Gen 3:15) and offered them his covenant.
71 God made an everlasting covenant with Noah and with all living beings (cf. Gen 9:16). It will remain in force as long as the world lasts.
72 God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him and his descendants. By the covenant God formed his people and revealed his law to them through Moses. Through the prophets, he prepared them to accept the salvation destined for all humanity.
73 God has revealed himself fully by sending his own Son, in whom he has established his covenant forever. The Son is his Father's definitive Word; so there will be no further Revelation after him.
I had to smile this morning when I went to the next entry of the Catechism, as the phrase “in brief” appears before this sequence of sentences (68-73). As luck would have it, here on the eve of Christmas we have arrived at a “summary sequence” of God’s Revelation, brought to fullness in the revelation of God’s Son, “the Father’s definitive Word,” as para. 73 puts it. The Catechism provides these reviews from time to time because at its heart the book is a teaching instrument. You may recall from elementary school that our teachers—the thoughtful ones, anyway—would remind us of the material or the domain recently covered, on the eve of the next day’s test.
The Catechism’s focus is primarily content, not literary inspiration, but I can’t help but be impressed at how this segment does reflect a flow and a style that captivates the reader and pulls together the essentials of divine Revelation. I seem to recall that when the Catechism was promulgated, there was talk that perhaps some portions of it might be memorized. I don’t know if this sequence was one of them, but it seems to lend itself to that sort of use. Over the years, I have learned that early acquisition of a basic outline has proved invaluable in future study, research, and book selection.
On Tuesday I posted the pastoral considerations surrounding the selection of Gospel texts for Christmas Mass, specifically how Luke’s narrative always trumps Matthew’s and especially John’s. That most of us rarely, if ever, hear the introduction of St. John’s Gospel is an amazing loss to the Catholic faithful. John’s opening text is the consummate summary of the identity of Jesus Christ. The text appears to be a poem, hymn, or primitive creed that preexisted the full Gospel. Personally, I believe the text should be the assigned Gospel of January 1, the Octave Day of Christmas, with the Marian observance transferred elsewhere in the calendar.
Because of the high regard of the Church for John’s text, Pope Pius V inserted John 1 into every Mass after the Council of Trent in 1570; it was read after the final blessing and came to be known in the Mass rubrics as the “Last Gospel.” Surprisingly, Wikipedia has an entry on its use, quoting from a pre-1970 text: (links inoperative, alas)
The Last Gospel began as a private devotional practice on the priest's part, but was gradually absorbed into the rubrics of the Mass. Immediately, after the blessing, the priest goes to the Gospel side of the altar. He begins with the Dominus vobiscum as at the proclamation of the Gospel of the Mass. But, since he reads from the altar card, he makes a Sign of the Cross with his right thumb on the altar rather than on the Gospel text before signing his own forehead, lips, and chest. At the words Et Verbum caro factum est (And the Word became flesh), the priest genuflects…The text of the Gospel is perhaps best known for its opening lines: In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum... (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word...)
When the new missal was promulgated in 1970 the “Last Gospel” rite was discontinued and the text of John was incorporated into the Christmas liturgy during the later morning Masses, in a day when many families went to Mass in the morning. The liturgists and editors probably did not foresee how popular the Christmas Vigil Masses would become, certainly in the United States. Last Sunday my pastor, for example, suggested that some families might wish to “start a new family tradition” of attending Christmas morning Mass rather than the 4 PM extravaganza of the Vigil when we have had three Masses on site at times in our history, along with a 7, 9, and Midnight.
Thus, unless a Catholic goes about looking for the Johannine text, it is generally lost in practical parochial usage. This is unfortunate, for the beginning of John’s Gospel was regarded as the capital summary statement of God’s revelation in Jesus, so much so that it was read in every Mass until well into the twentieth century. So, on a day when the Catechism provides its summary statement of Revelation, I would like to include that of St. John: (John 1: 1-18)
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.
John testified to him and cried out, saying,
“This was he of whom I said,
‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’”
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him.