Thursday, December 20, 2007

Great O Antiphons - Lawrence

Today, December 20th, the Church is in the middle of the "Great O Antiphons." The "Great O’s" are chanted or spoken at evening services in many churches throughout the world from December 17th until December 23rd.

Each of these short prayers begins with the acclamation "O", which precedes one of the Messianic titles from the Old Testament and ends with a request for Christ’s coming.

Thus, we begin on December 17th with O Wisdom, and proceed through the rest of Advent with: O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Day-spring, O King of the Nations, and lastly O Emmanuel, on which John Neale’s hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, is based.

These prayers have been tradition in the church since the 8th and 9th centuries though the tradition’s origin is unknown. The antiphons are beautifully expressed and have a rich meaning; they begin with the creation of the universe, work on through Israel’s messianic prophecies, and culminate in the incarnation and birth of Christ in Bethlehem.

It has been noted that the initials of each Latin title—Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, and Emmanuel, combine to form SARCORE, which, when written backwards, gives us the Latin phrase, Ero Cras, which means, Tomorrow, I shall be. This may be just coincidence but, to the Christians of the Middle Ages, it gave them much on which to meditate about Our Lord’s coming.

Today’s antiphon, O Key of David, comes from Isaiah’s prophesy, I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. Isaiah 22:22, NRSV.

There are many versions of today’s antiphon but I like the one out of the Monastic Diurnal that the nuns used when I was in the Convent: O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel; that openest and no man shutteth, and shuttest and no man openeth: Come, and bring the prisoners out of the prison-house, them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

As we approach the coming of Christ into our lives and hearts this Advent, may we receive the Key of David and enter into the freedom of Christ’s love.

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