Wednesday, December 20, 2006

O Antiphons

From around the blogosphere, I found for the first time, the seven beautiful antiphons before Christmas. This is from the Church bulletin:

Beginning tonight, those who pray Vespers will sing in the opening phrase a beautiful title of Christ. These titles belong to a collection of opening phrases called the "O Antiphons" after the awe-inspired "O" sung on the first note. There are seven short verses sung before the Magnificat during Evening Prayer of the Church on the seven days before the vigil of Christmas. They each begin with the exclamation "O". Each of them ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes more urgent.

The antiphons were composed in the seventh or eighth century when monks put together texts from the Old Testament which looked forward to the coming of our salvation. They form a rich mosaic of scriptural images. These seven verses, or antiphons as they are called, appear to be the originals although from time to time other texts were used. They became very popular in the Middle Ages. While the monastic choirs sang the antiphons the great bells of the church were rung.

There's a playful code in the titles: When you take their Latin names: Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, and so on-the titles form an acrostic when you read them backwards: "ERO CRAS." that is translated as "I will be there tomorrow!"

A curious feature of these antiphons is that the first letter of each invocation: O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dawn, O Ruler, O Emmanuel when taken in their Latin names, form an acrostic in reverse.

So the first letters of Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, and Emmanuel, provide the Latin words: "ERO CRAS". In Latin, the phrase spells out the response of Christ himself to the heartfelt prayer of his people: "Tomorrow I will be there". It's as if Christ were answering the prayers of the waiting people in the words of the prayers themselves.

A reflection on these words provides a good preparation for Christmas day by day:
December 17th:
O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner. O come to teach us the way of truth.
December 18th:
O Adonai and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai. O come and save us with your mighty power.
December 19th:
O stock of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations; kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim. O come to deliver us, and do not delay.
December 20th:
O key of David and scepter of Israel, what you open no one else can close again; what you close no one can open. O come to lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
December 21st:
O Rising Sun, you are the splendor of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
December 22nd:
O King whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay.
December 23rd:
O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Savior. O come and save us, Lord, our God.

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