The Great O Antiphons – O Virgo virginum

The Great O Antiphons were traditionally sung before and after the Magnificat at Evensong starting on December 17.They are most familiar to us as they were paraphrased as the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The reflections are a gift from the Reverend Canon Leonel L. Mitchell, Th.D. He is the retired professor of liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James, South Bend, IN.

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O Virgo virginum

O Virgin of Virgins, how shall this be? For neither before you was any seen like you, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why do you marvel at me? The thing which you behold is a mystery.

The Sarum Breviary, which was used in England until 1549, contained an eighth antiphon, one addressed to the Virgin Mary. They began the sequence on December 16 and were a day ahead of the Roman (and now traditional) use. Its focus is that of Sunday’s propers, the mystery of the Virgin Birth of the Messiah. I thought this was a good way to conclude this series on the morning of December 24. As a thought for today I offer this hymn (Hymn 73, The Hymnal 1982), translated from a Greek hymn for Christmas Eve.

The King shall come when morning dawns and light triumphant breaks; when beauty gilds the eastern hills and life to joy awakes

Not, as of old, a little child, to bear, and fight, and die, but crowned with glory like the sun that lights the morning sky.

The King shall come when morning dawns and earth’s dark night is past; O haste the rising of that morn, the day that e’er shall last;

and let the endless bliss begin, by weary saints foretold, when right shall triumph over wrong, and truth shall be extolled.

The King shall come when morning dawns and light and beauty brings: Hail, Christ the Lord! Thy people pray, come quickly, King of kings.

Greek; tr. John Brownlie (1859–1925), alt.

The Great O Antiphons – O Emmanuel

The Great O Antiphons were traditionally sung before and after the Magnificat at Evensong starting on December 17.They are most familiar to us as they were paraphrased as the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

 

The reflections are a gift from the Reverend Canon Leonel L. Mitchell, Th.D. He is the retired professor of liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James, South Bend, IN.

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O Emmanuel – December 23

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations and their Salvation: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

This final O antiphon is probably the best-known, since it is paraphrased as the opening verse of the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Emmanuel, of course, means God is with us, and in today’s Gospel St. Matthew in telling the story of the annunciation to Joseph comments, “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet [Isaiah]: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” We don’t have to get lost in wondering what exactly Isaiah had in mind. In this context it is enough to know how the evangelist understood it. Jesus is the one whom peoples desire, who is coming to save us. All that has been longed for is happening. Mary’s Son is the promised Savior. O come let us adore him!

 

The Great O Antiphons – O Rex gentium

The Great O Antiphons were traditionally sung before and after the Magnificat at Evensong starting on December 17. They are most familiar to us as they were paraphrased as the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The reflections are a gift from the Reverend Canon Leonel L. Mitchell, Th.D. He is the retired professor of liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James, South Bend, IN.
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O Rex gentiumDecember 22
O King of the Nations, and their Desire, you are the cornerstone who makes us both one: Come and save the creature you fashioned from clay.

As we look out on a world torn by strife and a Church divided into competing denominations, shouts of heresy and overt acts of schism, we send up our fervent entreaty to Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords, to save us–the creatures the Divine hand has fashioned out of clay. We are God’s building, and Christ is the cornerstone. We are just the bricks, not the architects. It is Christ who makes us one, not only one with the Godly, but one with those @#$%&#@s who call us “the enemy.” It is wondrous indeed that Christ does not give up on us or them. but says, “Little children, love one another.” Come and save the creature you fashioned out of clay.

The Great O Antiphons – O Oriens

The Great O Antiphons were traditionally sung before and after the Magnificat at Evensong starting on December 17.They are most familiar to us as they were paraphrased as the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The reflections are a gift from the Reverend Canon Leonel L. Mitchell, Th.D. He is the retired professor of liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James, South Bend, IN.
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O Oriens – December 21
O Dayspring, Brightness of the Light Eternal, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

The image of light shining in darkness pervades not only Advent liturgy and hymnody, but that of Christmas and Epiphany as well. The last verses of the Song of Zechariah spring instantly to mind, “The dawn (or dayspring) from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell and darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Dr. William Storey, Professor Emeritus of Medieval Liturgy at Notre Dame, tells me that these O antiphons were originally sung with the Benedictus at the morning office before they were moved to Vespers and the Magnificat. This makes the emphasis even stronger. We are here in the pre-dawn, awaiting the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, to illumine not only the landscape but our lives. “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

The Great O Antiphons – O Clavis David

The Great O Antiphons were traditionally sung before and after the Magnificat at Evensong starting on December 17.They are most familiar to us as they were paraphrased as the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The reflections are a gift from the Reverend Canon Leonel L. Mitchell, Th.D. He is the retired professor of liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James, South Bend, IN.
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O Clavis David December 20
 O Key of David, and Scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no one can shut, you shut and no one can open: Come and bring the captives out of the prison house, those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

Who holds the “power of the keys?” Certainly, the Messiah, the Son of David. And, yes, he cares about prisoners, P.O.W.s, detainees at Gitmo, and ordinary convicts in the world’s prisons and jails, and he offers them true freedom, the freedom he gave to the Penitent Thief on the Cross, BUT all of us “sit in darkness and the shadow of death,” and he comes with the keys to Death and Hell (or more properly Hades) to unlock for all of us the gates of heaven and to bring us to life in him. AND we have to bring all those other prisoners along with us, because Adonai loves us all. The unlocked door draws us through Advent to Christmas to Easter and the end of captivity..

The Great O Antiphons – O Radix Jesse

The Great O Antiphons were traditionally sung before and after the Magnificat at Evensong starting on December 17.They are most familiar to us as they were paraphrased as the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”The reflections are a gift from the Reverend Canon Leonel L. Mitchell, Th.D. He is the retired professor of liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James, South Bend, IN.
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O Radix JesseDecember 19
 O Root of Jesse, you stand as an ensign to the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, and nations bow in worship: Come and deliver us, and tarry not.
You can almost hear the voices of the prophets calling upon the LORD to get moving and deliver Israel from those who are oppressing it, or the cry of the psalmist, “Awake, O Lord! why are you sleeping? Arise! Do not reject us for ever. Why have you hidden your face and forgotten our affliction and oppression? We sink down in the dust; our body cleaves to the ground. Rise up, and help us, and save us, for the sake of your steadfast love.” (Psalm 44)
The Good News is that today’s the day. “On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious,” (Isaiah 11:10) . “That day” (illo die) is at hand as we look forward not only to the great and terrible Day of the Lord, but to the coming of Jesus Christ–in less than a week. As disciples of Christ, are we standing as an ensign to the peoples? or are we drifting along like those who are “at ease in Zion”? (Amos 6:1)

The Great O Antiphons – O Adonai

The Great O Antiphons were traditionally sung before and after the Magnificat at Evensong starting on December 17. They are most familiar to us as they were paraphrased as the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”The reflections are a gift from the Reverend Canon Leonel L. Mitchell, Th.D. He is the retired professor of liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James, South Bend, IN.
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O Adonai December 18
 O Adonai and Leader of the house of Israel, you appeared in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gave him the Law on Sinai. Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
Adonai is the title read in place of the name YHVH when the Torah is read aloud. the English bible regularly translates it LORD (either in caps or caps and small caps). Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, Moses’ successor.
We are reminded that Moses received the Torah from God on Mt. Sinai . It was in the “sermon on the mount” that the new Joshua delivered the new Torah. It was on Mt. Tabor that Jesus was transfigured, and the apostles saw him in glory with Moses and Elijah. And it was on Mt. Calvary that the New Covenant in the Messiah’s Blood was sealed.
And so we pray, “Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.”

The Great O Antiphons – O Sapientia

The Great O Antiphons were traditionally sung before and after the Magnificat at Evensong starting on December 17.  They are most familiar to us as they were paraphrased as the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The reflections are a gift from the Reverend Canon Leonel L. Mitchell, Th.D.  He is the retired professor of liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James, South Bend, IN.
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O Sapientia – December 17

O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reach from one end of the earth to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: come and teach us the way of prudence

 The prologue to St.  John’s Gospel tells us, “In the beginning was the Word,, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God..  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” We are probably less familiar with Wisdom 9:9-10, “With you [God] is wisdom, she who knows your works and was present when you made the world. . . Send her forth from the holy heavens, and from the throne of your glory send her.” Wisdom in this context is understood by Christians to be John’s Logos, another name for Christ.  It was the name Constantine, and later Justinian gave to the great cathedral in Constantinople, Hagia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom.  It is this of which this first of the Great O Antiphons reminds us.  Jesus Christ is “the eternal Word, the Wisdom from on high by whom [God] created all things.” When we look at creation we see the Divine Wisdom at work, and when we look out on the world and the church today and see the turmoil and destruction we human beings are and have been reeking upon it, this message seems to be right on target, “Come and teach us the way of prudence.” It is not only a Christmas gift, it seems to be a real lack in our present precarious world situation.

Advent Quiet

Advent …

As I write this we are a day or two away from the midway point of Advent. If your Advent has been like mine, it is flying by. The sense of “being prepared” may be settling in or it may be better described as elusive or non-existent.

How can the Cathedral help with that? First we extend to you an invitation to take three minutes to sit down, turn off the noise makers (computers, phones, TVs, radios, etc.), and next take a few slow deep breaths. As you do, offer this prayer with the flow of your breathing: Still me. Calm me. Come, Lord Jesus. (This may be repeated as often as needed in almost any setting. It works especially well when lighting the candles in your Advent wreath.)

Some other things that may encourage and support your Advent journey include attending the Advent Quiet Afternoon on Sunday, December 11 from 3:00 to 5:00. Come for all or part. Help us “Green the Cathedral” on Sunday, December 18 after the 10:30 service. Stay or return that afternoon for Lessons and Carols (Sunday, December 18 at 4:00pm). It is followed by a Candlelight Reception in Barth Hall.

Also, pull out your Bible and read the story of the Annunciation to Mary, or of the journey to Bethlehem and the Savior’s birth. You will find them all at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel. (I’m not giving you the exact verses so you can meander through to find them.)

Advent blessings,
Scott+