In the Catholic Church, this Sunday, November 1, is All Saints Day. The first reading at the Mass for All Saints Day is taken from the Book of Revelation. Today, the following verse from this reading is on my mind: “Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, ‘Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?’ I said to him, ‘My lord, you are the one who knows.’ He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.’” (Rev 7:13-14).
I’ve asked myself, “What is this ‘time of great distress’, or this ‘great period of trial’ as it was translated in earlier versions of my New American Bible?” Commentaries I have read say that the author of Revelation (St. John) meant this ‘great period of trial’ to refer to a period of fierce persecution of the early Christians at the hands of the Roman authorities. This commentary also states that the Book of Revelation remains valid and meaningful for Christians of all time. So how is it “valid and meaningful” for us today?
Well, first, I understand that, in Revelation, St. John is giving his account of a vision of heaven in the highly symbolic and allegorical language popular in the literature of his day. I picture him, in this vision, speaking with the elder while viewing the spectacle of the “multitude” standing “before the throne and before the Lamb…” as stated earlier in the account. It is easy to understand that the throne is the throne of God, that the Lamb is Jesus, and that the multitude consists of the saints of heaven. But, what of the great period of trial, or the time of great distress, which they have survived? It seems clear that these terms refer to their time on Earth.
If that is true, then the story is valid and meaningful for us today in that we must survive OUR great period of trial so that we can stand before God upon our death having been made clean by washing our robes and making them white in the Blood of the Lamb. What must we do specifically to survive it in this way? That is the question that must be answered. The interpretation of the Catholic Church is that we must die in the state of grace, free from sin. It goes back to other Thursday Thoughts that I’ve had. We must use the Holy Catholic Church as our guide, make use of the Sacraments, be aware of the mercy of God, confess our sins and be ready. Remember, the end will come “like a thief in the night.”