Sunday, December 20, 2015

Meditations on the 'O Antiphons' by Mgr Charles Pope

Deacon Sabatino of the Institute of Catholic Culture has brought to my attention the recent talk about the O antiphons for the last week of Advent. As well as the talk, which is available on audio and video, there is a recording of the Compline which was prayed on the occasion. As usual, I love the way that the ICC, which has a mission of cultural renewal, fully emphasizes how the liturgy in its fullness has to be at the heart of what it does.

To my shame, when I heard about this I had to ask the question...what are the O Antiphons? Well, for anyone else who is unaware too, that’s why its worth listening or watching! But in brief, they are the antiphons for the Magnificat used at Vespers of the last seven days of Advent in Western Christian traditions. They are also used as the Alleluia verses on the same days in the OF Catholic Mass. They are referred to as the “O Antiphons” because the title of each one begins with the interjection “O.”

Each antiphon is a name of Christ, one of his attributes mentioned in Scripture. They are:
December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
December 23: O Emmanuel (the name meaning “God is with us.”)

The Catholic Church has been singing the O Antiphons since about the eighth century. They were first composed as antiphons to accompany the singing of the Magnificat in Vespers of the Divine Office, during the last days of Advent, December 17-23. Some Anglican churches (e.g. the Church of England) also use them, either in the same way as modern Roman Catholics, or according to a medieval English usage.

They are a compact and beautiful theology that draws on biblical themes of the Old Testament; as such they proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and hopes. They also express current longings rooted in those themes. And although the prophecies are fulfilled, they remain an ever-lasting aspect of all human hearts.

Note too not only the expression “O” but also the repeated use of the word “come.” These antiphons are memorably and poetically reworked in the beautiful and well-known hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel” which is included here as an appendix.

Here is a short video of the Magnificat and O Antiphons. 

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