The Cloisters, Moissac Abbey. December 1877. Photographer: Séraphin-Médéric Mieusement (1840-1905). Licence Ouverte. Wikimedia Commons.

16 Dec 2012

The Commencement Of The Church's Great O Antiphons Begins, Tomorrow, 17 December.

Text and Illustrations are taken from Wikipedia - the free encyclopaedia,
unless otherwise stated.

Picture: From Codex Gigas.
Date: 13th-Century.
Source: Web of The Royal Library, National Library of Sweden 
(Full page image), cropped for usage here.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The O Antiphons are Magnificat Antiphons used at Vespers on the last seven days of Advent in Western Christian traditions.

Each Antiphon is a name of Christ, one of his attributes mentioned in Scripture.

They are:

December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
December 23: O Emmanuel (O With Us is God)

In the Roman Catholic tradition in which they originated, the O Antiphons are sung or recited at Vespers from 17 December to 23 December, inclusive (but see note, below, on alternative English usage).

In the Church of England, they have traditionally been used as Antiphons to the Magnificat at Evening Prayer during this period, and although not printed in the Book of Common Prayer, have long been part of secondary Anglican Liturgical sources, such as the English Hymnal. More recently, they have found a place in primary Liturgical documents throughout the Anglican Communion, including the Church of England's Common Worship Liturgy.

Fleury Abbey (Floriacum) in Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, Loiret, France, 
founded about 640 A.D., is one of the most celebrated 
Benedictine Monasteries of Western Europe, 
which possesses the Relics of Saint Benedict of Nursia.
Photo: July 2005.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Use of the O Antiphons also occurs in many Lutheran Churches. In the Book of Common Worship, published by the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Antiphons can be read as a Praise Litany at Morning or Evening Prayer.

The Hymn, O come, O come, Emmanuel (in Latin, Veni Emmanuel) is a lyrical paraphrase of these Antiphons.

The first letters of the titles, taken backwards, form a Latin acrostic of "Ero Cras" which translates to "Tomorrow, I will be there", mirroring the theme of the antiphons.

Isaiah's Lips Anointed With Fire.
Artist: Benjamin West (1738 - 1820).
Current Location: BJU Museum and Gallery.
Source/Photographer: BJU Museum and Gallery.
(Wikimedia Commons)

According to Fr. William Saunders:

“ The exact origin of the "O Antiphons" is not known. Boethius (480 A.D. – 524 A.D.) used language which may be a reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence in the 6th-Century A.D. At the Benedictine Fleury Abbey, these Antiphons were recited by the Abbot and other Abbey leaders in descending Rank, and then a gift was given to each Member of the Community. By the 8th-Century A.D., they were in use in The Liturgical Celebrations in Rome. The usage of the "O Antiphons" was so prevalent in Monasteries that the phrases "Keep your O" and "The Great O Antiphons" were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that, in some fashion, the "O Antiphons" have been part of Western Liturgical Tradition since the very Early-Church.

The Benedictine Monks arranged these Antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last Title and takes the first letter of each one—Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia—the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning: "Tomorrow, I will come". Therefore, Jesus, Whose coming Christians have prepared for in Advent and Whom they have addressed in these Seven Messianic Titles, now speaks to them: "Tomorrow, I will come." So, the "O Antiphons" not only bring intensity to their Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion. ”

A number of other Antiphons were found in various Mediaeval Breviaries.

The importance of the "O Antiphons" is twofold. First, each one is a Title for The Messiah. Secondly, each one refers to the Prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of The Messiah. The Latin Antiphons are from The Breviarium Romanum. The English versions, which are not always literal translations of the Latin, are from The Church of England's Common Worship Liturgy. Biblical quotations are from The NRSV.

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