Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Liturgical Notes

The Advent “O” Antiphons

The Calendar in the Book of Common Prayer notes on 16 December, “O Sapientia: an ancient Advent anthem”. “O Sapientia” is the first of seven antiphons on the Magnificat which are addressed to Christ under a series of titles and figures from Old Testament prophesy and are known as the “O Antiphons” or the “Great Os” from the first word. In the Roman rite they are used from the 17th to the 23rd of December. In the mediaeval English use, however, the "Os" were accordingly begun on the 16th, either because of a proper antiphon on St Thomas’ day or the use of an extra Marian Antiphon (O Virgo virginum) on the 23rd.

When exactly the O Antiphons were composed and came into use is not known. It is claimed that Boethius (died 524/5) “made a slight reference to them”, although the on-line essay where I fund this gives not even a slight reference for this claim []. According to A.C.A. Hall, the Episcopal Bishop of Vermont, writing c. 1914, the antiphons are fond in 11th century manuscripts, but “must be of much earlier origin; for Amalarius, a French liturgical scholar of the first half of the ninth century, added an eighth to the older seven.” This eighth, by the way, was the O Virgo virginum.

The same source which talks about Boethius mentioning them also says that “the Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one - Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia - the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, ‘Tomorrow, I will come.’ Therefore, the Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, ‘Tomorrow, I will come.’ So the “O Antiphons” not only bring intensity to our Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion.”

The hymn O Come, o come, Emmanuel, is founded on these antiphons, though the seventh antiphon becomes the first verse of the hymn.

It might be helpful to point out the prophecies to which each of the O Antiphons refers. I have simply combined the references given by different commentators. The New Testament references are from Bishop Hall. The English versions of the Antiphons are from McCausland’s Order of Divine Service: The Christian Year 2010 (Toronto: ABC, 2009), p. 27. Bishop Hall also included a devotional paraphrase on each of the antiphons:

1. O Sapientia
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, / attingens a fine usque ad finem, / fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: / veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, who came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching from beginning to end, mightily and sweetly ordered all things: Come, and teach us the way of prudence!
Isaiah 11.2-3’ Isaiah 28:29; Proverbs viii. 22, sq.; Sirach 24:3; Wisdom of Solomon 8:1; 9: 4, 9, 10; Hebrews i. 1; John i. 3; Ecclesiasticus xxxiv. 3. sq.
2. O Adonai
O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, / qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, / et ei in Sina legem dedisti: / veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and on Mount Sinai gave him the Law: Come, and with an outstretched arm redeem us!
Isaiah 11:4-5 ; Acts 7:30, 28; Hebrews 12:18-21, 10:16. Also: Ex 24:12; Deut 5:15f; Ex 15:13.
3 . O Radix Jesse
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, / super quem continebunt reges os suum, / quem Gentes deprecabuntur: / veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing for an ensign of the people, before whom rulers shall keep silence, to whom all nations shall have recourse: Come, save us, and do not delay.
Isaiah 11:1, 10; 45.14; 52.15; Micah 5:1. Isaiah 45:14, Isaiah 52:15; Hab 2:3 ; Romans 1:3; 15:12.
4. O Clavis David
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; / qui aperis, et nemo claudit; / claudis, et nemo aperit: / veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, / sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel: who opens and no one closes, who closes and no one opens: Come, and deliver from the chains of prison whoever sits in the darkness and the shadow of death.
Isaiah 22:22; 9:7; 42:7; Gen 49:10; Num 24:17; Revelation iii. 7; Luke i. 32; Mark ii. 10; Matthew xxviii. 18, xvi. 18, 19.
5. O Oriens
O Oriens, / splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: / veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Rising Dawn (or Dayspring), Brightness of the light eternal and Sun of Righteousness: Come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
Isaiah 9:2; 42:7; 60:1-2; Zech 3:8-6:12Malachi 4:2; Wisdom 7; 26; Luke i. 78, 79; Hebrews i. 3; John i. 4, 5; Titus iii. 4; Luke vii. 22; Ephesians v. 8-14.
[Note that in some OT passages, the word which the Vulgate rendered as “dawn” is translated as “Branch”.]
6. O Rex gentium
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, / lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: / veni, et salva hominem, / quem de limo formasti.
O King of the Nations, and their Desire, the cornerstone that binds two into one: Come, and save mankind, fashioned out of clay.
Gen 2:7; Isa 9:6; 2:4; Isa 28:16; 45:22; Jer 10. 7; Haggai 2:8; Psalm 113. 6-8; 47:9. Acts 17:26; Eph 2:14 .
7. O Emmanuel
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, / exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum: / veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations and their Saviour: Come, and save us, O Lord our God.
Isaiah 7:14 ; 8:8; 32:1; Psalm 72; Genesis 49: 10; Haggai 2:7; Zech 9:9; Luke 1:71, 74, 75.

For those who begin the Antiphons today, here is the one for use on December 23rd
O Virgo Virginum
O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?/ Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem. / Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini? / Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.
O Virgin of Virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall be any after. daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

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