As I've gradually prayed the Office of All Saints, the little chapter for Vespers, Lauds and Terce - Ecce ego - has been provoking my thoughts.
Now, it must be understood that the little chapter for each of the day Hours of feasts - excepting Prime and Compline, which have invariable readings proper to themselves - is an extract from the Epistle, usually, of the Mass, but arranged in such a way that only three extracts are given, two being used only once, at Sext and None respectively, and one being on the contrary repeated at the cardinal Hours of Lauds and Vespers, and moreover at Terce, which is traditionally an important Hour, as ideally it should be sung directly before High Mass.
The reason Ecce ego (Apoc. vii, 2-3) has exercised itself upon me is that its message is so pointed and arresting, especially for such a backslider as myself; here is what I've read, and my rendering of it:
Ecce ego Joannes vidi alterum Angelum ascendentem ab ortu solis, habentem signum Dei vivi; et clamavit voce magna quatuor Angelis, quibus datum est nocere terræ et mari, dicens: Nolite nocere terræ et mari neque arboribus, quoadusque signemus servos Dei nostri in frontibus eorum.(Behold, I, John, beheld an other Angel ascending from the rising sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried with a great voice to the four Angels, to whom it was given to harm the earth and the sea, saying: Do no harm to the land and the sea nor to the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.)
The scene, you see, is directly before at the Divine command those four angels are loosed to smite the world for its ungodliness and evil - and the allusion throughout is very evidently to the like scene in Ezechiel chapter ix, where an angel goes about sinful Jerusalem marking the saving sign of the tau cross (presage of the Lord's Cross, the sphragis or seal with which we are marked for Christ at our Baptism) on those faithful to the Lord, directly before God's dread angels go out to slay all the wicked in that city!
How terrible shall be the last days - and we have been in them from the death and rising of Christ, they endure until the End - beyond the endurance of any unless God (as He promises) shorten them, when even the just shall scarce be saved: what then of the wicked and the sinner, the reprobate and the spurner of grace, the man worthy of perdition and fitted for hell? What of me?
The responsories, great and sobering, of Matins of the Dead (Placebo) we shall read, and pray God take to heart, on Monday, the translated Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed: they sum up what should be our prayer when confronted with this truth.
I'll go to confession before Mass this Sunday morning!!!