Dec 17, 2014

The O Antiphons -- Decoded!


Maybe you've heard something about these so-called O Antiphons but were too embarrassed to ask? Or perhaps your Google is broken? Fear Not! (as we churchy types like to say this time of year). For behold I bring you the key to cracking the O Antiphon code. 

But first I want to clear up several pre-conceived notions. The O Antiphons do NOT  have anything to do with Oprah. Nor are they related to other songs beginning with “O” like O Susanna, O Christmas Tree, or O-bla-di-O-bla-da.

They are, however, a rich tradition during the waning days of Advent. If you're not familiar with them per se, you likely know the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel which is based upon them. 

The “O Antiphons” have been used as an Advent devotion as early as the 5th century. Benedictine monasteries provide some of the earliest evidence of their usage and by the 8th century they were commonly used in Roman churches. There are seven “O's” (the name simply derives from the start of each antiphon — “O Sapienta, O Adonai, etc.) and each one recalls a Scriptural reference to Jesus. 

There is one appointed for every day between December 17 and 23rd. Thus:

December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily, 
to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.

December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
O come, O come, thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai's height,                       
in ancient times didst give the law, in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
O come, thou Branch of Jesse's tree, free them from Satan's tyranny
that trust thy mighty power to save, and give them victory o'er the grave.

December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)                                                  
O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home;                         
make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;                       
 disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadows put to flight.

December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)  
O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind;                          
bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace.

December 23: O Emmanuel (O God-With-Us)      
O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,                                                       
that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

In Anglican usage the O Antiphons are traditionally used before and after the Magnificat at Evening
Prayer (sung at Evensong) or as the Alleluia verse before the gospel reading during the appointed days.

For many, they are still used as private devotions and it is in this way that I'd encourage you to engage them over the next week. (If you're a Latin enthusiast, you may want to check out New Zealander Bosco Peters' terrific post on the subject on his Liturgy blog, as he includes all the Latin texts).

Anyway, as a devotion, take the corresponding verse in the familiar hymn and reflect on it for a few minutes each day. How do you experience Jesus through the particular verse? What is happening in your own life that might be a parallel? How might you be inspired by the verse as you draw nearer to the Incarnational event on Christmas Day?

Then don't forget to end each session with the refrain -- Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

If you try it out as part of your spiritual preparation this year, I'd love to hear about your experience!


3 comments:

Jane Ramsey said...

I always loved O Dayspring.

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