Monday, December 19, 2011

A Medieval Liturgical 'Commentary' on the O Antiphons

We are now in the final days of Advent, in which the famous "O" Antiphons are sung each day at Vespers with the Magnificat. These are one of the most loved features of the Church's liturgy, and for good reason; the texts are especially rich in references to the Old Testament prophecies of the Divine Redeemer and His coming for the salvation of the human race, and the Gregorian chant with which they are sung is extremely beautiful. The Roman Rite has seven of these, and it of course well known that the first letters of the seven titles (O Sapientia, O Adonai etc.) form an acrostic when read backwards, ERO CRAS, Latin for "Tomorrow I will be."; this is completed on the last day before the Christmas season formally begins on the evening of the 24th.
In the Use of Rome, when semidoubling antiphons was the norm, the O's were always doubled, and the choir did not sit after they were intoned, as one usually does for the Magnificat antiphon. Various other particular customs were observed in other places. In the very ancient abbey of Fleury, the intonation of each antiphon was assigned to a particular member of the monastery: O Wisdom to the abbot, O Lord to the prior, O Root of Jesse to the gardener, O Key of David to the cellarer, (who held the key to all of the storehouses), etc. (Martene 'De antiquis Ecclesiae ritibus' IV.3.3) The medieval use of Augsburg Cathedral in Germany contains a particularly interesting enrichment of the liturgy on these days. Each O is accompanied by a special chapter, and a special concluding oration, both of which refer back to it; these form a kind of scriptural and euchological commentary on the much older antiphons. Like many medieval uses, that of Augsburg also added other antiphons to the series, which I will note in another post later this week; here are the chapters and prayers which go with the seven oldest antiphons, those found in the Roman Breviary. At Augsburg, the Os began on December 13th, and so I have noted them here.
December 13
Ego Sapientia ex ore Altissimi prodivi, primogenita ante omnem creaturam. Transite ad me, omnes qui concupiscitis me, et a generationibus meis implemini.

The Chapter          Sirach 24, 5 et 26
I Wisdom came out of the mouth of the most High, the firstborn before all creatures. Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits.
  Aña O Sapientia, * quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

  Aña O Wisdom, * that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from end to end, mightily and sweetly ordering all things, come thou to teach us the way of prudence.
Festinantes, omnipotens Deus, in occursum Filii tui Domini nostri, nulli impediant actus terreni, sed caelestis sapientiae eruditio faciat nos ejus esse consortes. Per eundem.

The Prayer
Almighty God, let no earthly actions hinder them that hasten to meet Thy Son Our Lord; but let the teaching of heavenly wisdom make us his fellow heirs. Through the same.
 December 14
Ecce Deus noster: ecce Dominus Deus in fortitudine veniet, et brachium ejus dominabitur: ecce merces ejus cum eo, et opus illius coram illo.

The Chapter          Isaiah 40, 9-10
Behold our God: behold the Lord God shall come with strength, and his arm shall rule: Behold his reward is with him, and his work is before him.
  Aña O Adonai, * et Dux domus Israël, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

  Aña O Adonai, * and leader of the house of Israel, who didst appear to Moses in the fire of the bruning bush, and gavest him the Law on Sinai; come thou to redeem us with arm outstretched.
Deus, qui hominem de lapsu in mortem Unigeniti tui adventu redimisti: praesta, quaesumus; ut qui ejus gloriosam fatentur Incarnationem, ipsius Redemptoris consortia mereantur: Qui tecum.

The Prayer
God, who didst redeem man from the fall unto death by the coming of Thy Only begotten Son; grant, we beseech Thee, that they who confess His glorious Incarnation may merit the fellowship of that very Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth.
 December 15
Ecce radix Jesse ascendet in salutem populorum: ipsum gentes deprecabuntur: et erit nomen ejus gloriosum.

The Chapter            Isaiah 11, 10
Behold the root of Jesse shall arise for the salvation of the peoples; him the Gentiles shall beseech, and his name shall be glorious.
  Aña O radix Jesse, * qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

  Aña O root of Jesse, * that standest as an ensign of the peoples, at whom the kings shall shut their mouths, whom the Gentiles shall beseech: come thou to deliver us, delay thou not.
Festina, ne tardaveris, Domine, Deus noster: et a diabolico furore nos potenter liberare dignare: Qui cum.

The Prayer
Hasten, delay Thou not, o Lord, our God; and deign Thou mightily to deliver us from the wrath of the devil. Who with the Father.
 December 16
Dedi te in fœdus populi, in lucem gentium, ut aperires oculos caecorum, et educeres de conclusione vinctos, de domo carceris sedentes in tenebris.

Chapter            Isaiah 42, 6-7
I have given thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles: that thou may open the eyes of the blind, and bring forth the prisoners out of prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.
  Aña O clavis David, * et sceptrum domus Israël; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

  Aña O key of David, * and sceptre of the house of Israel; who openest, and no man shutteth; shuttest, and no man openeth: come thou, and lead forth the prisoner from the prisonhouse, and him that sitteth in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
Aurem tuam, quaesumus, Domine, precibus nostris accommoda: et mentis nostrae tenebras gratia tuae visitationis illustra: Qui vivis.

The Prayer
Incline Thy ear, Lord, we beseech Thee, unto our prayers, and lighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation; Who livest.
 December 17
Orietur vobis timentibus nomen meum sol justitiae, et sanitas in pennis ejus.

Chapter            Malachi 4,2
Unto you that fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health in his wings.
  Aña O Oriens, * splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

  Aña O Dayspring, * splendor of the light eternal,  and sun of justice; come thou, and enlighten them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
Mentes nostras, quaesumus, Domine, gratia tuae visitationis illustra: ut esse te largiente mereamur et inter prospera humiles, et inter adversa securi. Qui cum.

The Prayer
Enlighten our minds, we beseech Thee, Lord, by the grace of Thy visitation; that of Thy bounty  we may merit to be humble in prosperity, and safe in adversity. Who with the Father.
 December 18
Ecce dies veniunt, dicit Dominus, et suscitabo David germen justum: et regnabit rex, et sapiens erit, et faciet judicium et justitiam in terra.

Chapter            Jeremiah 23, 5
Behold the days come, saith the Lord, and I will raise up to David a just branch: and a king shall reign, and shall be wise, and shall execute judgment and justice upon the earth.
  Aña O Rex Gentium, * et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

  Aña O King of the Gentiles, * and the Desire thereof, and cornerstone that makest of twain one: come, to save man, whom Thou didst make from the mud of the earth.
Excita, quaesumus, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni: ut ab imminentibus peccatorum nostrorum periculis, te mereamur protegente eripi, te liberante salvari: Qui vivis.

The Prayer
Stir up Thy strength, O Lord, we beseech Thee, and come; us, that we may merit to be delivered from the imminent dangers of our sins by Thee our protector, and saved by Thee our liberator. Who livest.
December 19
Dominus enim judex noster, Dominus legifer noster, Dominus rex noster, ipse salvabit nos.

Chapter            Isaiah 33, 22
For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king: he will save us.
  Aña O Emmanuel, * Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

  Aña O Emmanuel, * our King and Lawgiver, longing of the Gentiles, and Savior thereof: come Thou to save us, O Lord our God.
Omnipotens Christe, Unigenite Dei, propitius ad salvandum populum in te credentem veni: ut benignitate solita ab omni dubietate et metu temporis nos jubeas liberari: Qui cum Deo Patre.

The Prayer
Christ Almighty, Onlybegotten Son of God, of Thy mercy come Thou to save the people that believeth in Thee; that by Thy wonted kindliness, Thou mayest command us to be freed of very doubt, and fear of our times. Who with the Father.
The translations of the Scriptural passages are taken from the Douay-Rheims version; where the quotation is different from the actual words of Scripture (a common enough feature of medieval liturgical texts), I have placed the changed words in italics. The translations of the antiphons are based on those in the English version of the Roman Breviary by the Marquess of Bute, with many modifications; those of the prayers are my own. It should be noted that the Chapter which accompanies "O Radix Jesse" is based on Isaiah 11, 10, but is actually quoted from a responsory of the Third Sunday of Advent. Likewise, the prayer which accompanies "O Clavis David" is that of the Third Sunday of Advent, and that which accompanies "O Rex gentium" is that of the First Sunday.
A 15th century stained glass window of Augsburg Cathedral, showing the Coronation of the Virgin Mary at top, the Annunciation on the lower left, and the Birth of Christ on the lower right.

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