Article 10: Catechism of the Catholic Church series
The Stages of Revelation
Mary’s beautiful “Magnificat,” also known as the “Canticle of Mary” found only in the Gospel of Saint Luke (1:46-55), might be considered a summary of the history of salvation. In this “hymn of Mary,” our Blessed Mother proclaims “the greatness of God” and rejoices in him as her “Savior.”
Reflecting on the history or stages of revelation (God revealing himself to us), Mary helps us understand how God intervened in “every generation,” as he gradually revealed himself to humanity. God helped “his servant Israel,” and embarked upon a “promise of mercy.” Mary finishes her song of praise by highlighting the truth that God’s promise of mercy was “made to our fathers,” and “to Abraham and his children forever.”
The point is that after “the fall” of our first parents, God could have turned out the lights and left. Instead, God promised a Redeemer (see Genesis 3:15) who would save us from our sins. This is acknowledged masterfully in Mary’s song of praise as she invokes God as her Savior and ours.
The Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), takes up this theme and explains: “… after their fall, God’s promise of redemption aroused in them [our first parents] the hope of being saved (see Genesis 3:15) and from that time on He ceaselessly kept the human race in His care, to give eternal life to those who perseveringly do good in search of salvation (see Romans 2:6-7).” (Dei Verbum, 3).
The council document continues, “then, at the time He had appointed He called Abraham in order to make of him a great nation (see Genesis 12:2). Through the patriarchs, and after them through Moses and the prophets, He taught this people to acknowledge Himself the one living and true God, provident father and just judge, and to wait for the Savior promised by Him, and in this manner prepared the way for the Gospel down through the centuries.” (Dei Verbum, 3).
This theme is likewise found in the 4th Eucharistic Prayer of the Sacred Liturgy as follows: “And when through disobedience [they] had lost your friendship, you did not abandon [them] to the domain of death. For you came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find you. Time and again you offered them covenants and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation. And you so loved the world, Father most holy, that in the fullness of time you sent your Only Begotten Son to be our Savior.”
Later in Genesis we read about the call of Abram (Genesis 12:1). The Catechism explains that [Abram], Abraham, is called by God “from his country, his kindred and his father’s house” and is made “the father of a multitude of nations” (ccc 59). It is with him that the covenant relationship with God begins.
The descendants of Abraham benefit from God’s promise made to the patriarchs. They are the chosen ones on whom the responsibility rests “to prepare for that day when God would gather all his children into the unity of the Church” (ccc 60).
In short, God formed Israel, “the priestly people of God,” as his chosen people. He freed them from slavery in Egypt and established the covenant of Mount Sinai which includes the Decalogue or Ten Words (Commandments) through Moses (Exodus 20:1-17) and the Promised Land (Joshua 12). They are “the first to hear the word of God,” from the proclamation of the prophets. From this people of Israel and the house of King David, would be born the Messiah, Jesus.
The prophet Daniel foretold the time of the coming of Christ, and also his death (Daniel 9:24-26).
The prophet Micah foretold Bethlehem as the place of the Redeemer’s birth. (Micah 5:1).
The prophet Isaiah foretold that the Savior would be born of a virgin and his name shall be Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
Other prophecies predicted that the Savior would be a great Prophet (Isaiah 49:6), a Priest (Psalm 109:4), and King (Psalm 71:8-11).
The prophet Zechariah foretold that the Redeemer would be poor, would enter Jerusalem seated on a lowly beast, be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 9:9; 11:12,13; 13:7).
The Catechism affirms that it is “through the prophets [that] God forms his people in the hope of salvation” and expectation of the “new and everlasting Covenant intended for all.” It is such holy women “as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Judith and Esther [who] kept alive the hope of Israel’s salvation. The purest figure among them is Mary” (ccc 64).
Many names are invoked and venerated in this short section of the Catechism. Among them is the king-priest Melchisedek. Later, in the New Testament Book of Hebrews 5:10 and 6:20, we read that Jesus is a priest forever in “the order of Melchizedek.” In the 1st Eucharistic Prayer reference is made to this priest Melchizedek. What is the significance of the priestly order of Melchizedek to the priesthood of Jesus?
Hebrews Chapter 7 tells us that the priesthood of Christ is a higher priesthood than the Levitical priesthood that ended with the death of Levi. Verses 1-3 recount the story of Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek in the valley of Shaveh (Genesis 14:17-20). Melchizedek has no ancestry and is a priest forever. He is an Old Testament “type of Christ.” Christ is the new Melchizedek in the sense that he is a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek and Christ’s priesthood will never end.
Christ, as the one true priest, called the Apostles to participate as ministers of his priesthood. In every generation, through the Church and the successors of the Apostles, the priesthood of Christ and his sacrifice, made “once for all” (Heb 7:27), is perpetuated. This is the essence of God’s promise of mercy.
Father John G. Hillier, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Chancellor to the Bishop and the bishop’s liaison to persons with disabilities
Understanding essence of God’s promise of mercy
Article 10: Catechism of the Catholic Church series