Friday, December 22, 2023

A Medieval Liturgical Commentary on the O Antiphons (Part 2)

In the Middle Ages, many uses of the Roman Rite added one or more new O antiphons to the well-known ancient series of seven. Of these additions, the first given here, O Virgo virginum, was certainly the most widespread, and in fact is still used by the Premonstratensians; many places in Germany lengthened the series to eleven or twelve. There was also one written for Vespers of St Thomas the Apostle, O Thoma Didyme, since the ferial antiphons of the 20th and 21st would normally be used only for the commemoration of Advent on his feast. As noted in an article earlier this week, the Use of Augsburg in Germany supplemented the O antiphons not only by the addition of four new ones, but also with a special chapter and prayer assigned to each day, which refer back to the antiphon itself. The O series began on December 13th; the four additional ones were then sung from December 20th to the 23rd.

The Annunciation, by Jan de Beer (1475-1528); first quarter of the 16th century. (Public domain image from Wikipedia.)
December 20
Capitulum Ecce Virgo conci-
piet, et pariet filium, et voca-
bitur nomen ejus Emmanuel;
butyrum et mel comedet, ut
sciat reprobare malum, et
eligere bonum.
Behold, a virgin shall conceive,
and bear a son, and his name
shall be called Emmanuel; he
shall eat butter and honey, that
he may know to refuse the evil,
and choose the good.
(Isa. 7, 14-15)
Aña O Virgo virginum, *
quomodo fiet istud, quia nec
primam visa es, nec habere
sequentem? Filiae Jerusalem,
quid me admiramini? Divi-
num est mysterium hoc quod
O Virgin of virgins, how shall
this come to pass? For Thou
seemest to have none like Thee
before, nor any such to follow.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why
do you regard me in wonder?
This which you see is a divine
Oratio Domine, sancte Pater,
omnipotens aeterne Deus,
Creator humanae substantiae,
qui Verbum tuum in Virginis
uterum venire voluisti: sup-
plicantium tibi preces beni-
gnus intende. Per eundem.
Lord, holy Father, almighty and
eternal God, creator of our hu-
man nature, who didst will that
Thy word come into the womb
of the Virgin; listen kindly to
the prayer of them that beseech
Thee. Through the same...
December 21
Cap. Vidi portam in domo
Domini clausam, et dixit ad
me Angelus: Solus Dominus
veniens ingreditur per eam,
et semper erit clausa.
I saw a closed door in the
house of the Lord, and the An-
gel said to me, “Only the Lord
will come and enter through it,
and it will always be closed.”
Aña O Gabriel, * nuntius
caelorum, qui januis clausis
ad me intrasti, et Verbum
nuntiasti: Concipies et pari-
es, Emmanuel vocabitur.
O Gabriel, messenger of the
heavens, who came to me
through the closed doors, and
announced the Word: Thou
shalt conceive, and bear a Son. 
Oratio Deus, qui de beatae
Mariae Virginis utero Ver-
bum tuum, Angelo nuntian-
te, carnem suscipere voluisti:
praesta supplicibus tuis; ut,
qui vere eam Genitricem Dei
credimus, ejus apud te inter-
cessonibus adjuvemur. Per
O God, who willed that Thy
Word should, by the message
of an Angel, take flesh in the
womb of the Blessed Virgin
Mary: grant unto us, we be-
seech Thee; that we who be-
lieve Her to be truly the Mo-
ther of God, may be helped by
Her intercession. Through the

December 22

Cap. Magnificabitur Domi-
nus usque ad fines terrae, et
in diebus ejus pax et laetitia
erit multis.
The Lord shall be magnified
unto the ends of the earth,
and in his days there shall be
peace and joy unto many.
Aña O Rex pacifice, * ante
saecula nate, per auream e-
gredere portam, redemptos
tuos visita, et eos illuc revo-
ca, unde ruerunt per culpam.
O peaceable King, born before
the ages, go out through the
golden gate, visit those whom
Thou hast redeemed, and call
them back, whence down they
fell through sin.
Oratio Redemptor noster,
aspice, Deus, et veni ad li-
berandum nos de profundo
iniquitatis, et dona Eccle-
siae tuae perpetuam tran-
quillitatem. Qui vivis.
Look upon us, o God, our Re-
deemer, and come to deliver us
from the depth of iniquity; and
grant perpetual peace to Thy
Church. Who livest...

The chapter Vidi portam is actually the text of an antiphon written for the feast of the Annunciation, which, however, was apparently not used at Augsburg itself; it alludes to, but does not exactly quote the prophet Ezechiel’s vision of the new and eternal Temple in the final chapters of his book. The chapter of the following day begins as a quotation of Micah 5,4, but is more allusion than quote. As with many such expansions of earlier liturgical customs, these are not of a uniform literary quality. The antiphon O Gabriel is a grammatical fragment, and the prayer assigned to O Virgo virginum is rather vague. Three of the four are not addressed to the Lord, and therefore do not end as the classic seven do with an invocation to Him to finally come to us in His Nativity, as we have longed for throughout Advent.

On the night of December 23, the last of the O antiphons is sung; in the Middle Ages, many churches celebrated this final Vespers of the Advent season with great solemnity, like the First Vespers of a feast. At Augsburg and elsewhere, it had the peculiar name “Vigil of the Vigil of the Nativity”; the word “vigilia” was often used in medieval liturgical books to mean “First Vespers.” The psalms were said of the weekday, all five of them with a single proper antiphon. After the chapter, a responsory was added, according to the general medieval custom for First Vespers. The responsory in question, De occulta illa, is very ancient, and found in many medieval breviaries. The custom of the special antiphon for the psalms appears to be uniquely German, and varies from use to use. In the table below, I have noted another common one, Paratus esto, which in the reform of St Pius X was added to the Roman Breviary at Lauds of the Ember Saturday of Advent.
December 23
Aña super psalmos Levate *
capita vestra; ecce appropin-
quat redemptio vestra.

(alia Paratus esto, * Israel, in
occursum Domini, quoniam
Lift up your heads, behold,
your redemption approacheth.

(elsewhere Be thou prepared, o
Israel, to meet the Lord, for He
shall come.)
Cap. Leva, Jerusalem, oculos
et vide potentiam Regis; ecce
Salvator venit solvere te a
Lift up thy eyes, o Jerusalem,
and see the might of the King;
behold the Savior cometh to
release Thee from thy bond.
R. De occulta illa habitatione
sua egressus est Filius Dei: *
descendit visitare et consola-
ri omnes qui eum devoto
corde desiderant. V. Ex Sion
species decoris ejus: Deus
noster manifeste veniet.
Descendit. Gloria Patri.
R. From His hidden abode the
Son of God has gone forth: *
He has come down to visit and
console all those who long for
Him with a devout heart.
V. Out of Sion the loveliness
of His beauty, our God shall
come manifestly. He has come
down. Glory be. He has come
Aña O Jerusalem, * civitas
Dei summi, leva in circuitu
oculos tuos, et vide Domi-
num, Deum tuum, qui jam
veniet te solvere a vinculis.
O Jerusalem, city of God most
high, lift up thy eyes around
thee, and see the Lord, thy
God, who will now come to
release thee from thy bond.
Oratio Vincula, quaesumus,
Domine, humanae pravitatis
abrumpe; ut ad Unigeniti tui
Nativitatem libera mente
curramus. Qui tecum.
Break, we beseech Thee, o
Lord, the bonds of human
wickedness, so that with free
minds we may run forth to the
birth of Thy Only-begotten
Son. Who with Thee...
The east choir of Augsburg Cathedral. The town of Wigratzbad, the home of the Fraternity of St Peter’s European seminary, is within the diocese of Augsburg.

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