At this time of year we get to enjoy seven “Advent Antiphons” when we say Morning Prayer, and I always look forward to them.
The ‘O Antiphons’ developed in the early church as sung prayers before and after Mary’s hymn, the Magnificat. They refer to different names of Jesus from the Old Testament Wisdom and prophetic books.
And like hymns, they do sing. Even if you don’t know any Latin, having them interlace the daily Office is like having swallowed something rich and fulfilling that will last you throughout the sometimes tiring preparation for Christmas. They’re a veritable feast of linguistic/poetic/theological allusions.
O Sapientia: 17 December.
Sapientia is wisdom. The feminine divine perhaps. The word drips juice, like sap. Sapientia…’Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven, like the first dew fall on the first grass…’ Wisdom – she was there at the beginning.
O Adonai: 18 December
Adonai is Lord. Adonis. Beautiful One. Christ identified as beautiful man and God Almighty. A trinitarian allusion and a fairly clear one at that.
O Radix Jesse: 19 December
It means Root of Jesse. Jesse’s more famous son was King David. Like in Cinderella, Jesse was asked ‘are these all the sons you have?’ after he paraded out all his older strapping lads. But there was still David the shepherd boy:’Great David’s greater son’, and a pre-echo of God’s only son. Radix: root. Radishes. Radical. Allusion upon allusion.
O Clavis: David: 20 December
Clavis means key. The key which opens and no one can shut. The key which locks and no one can open. Better to be on the right side than the wrong side of that key then, because once he opens up something, there’s no stopping it, despite all the depressing church attendance statistics you might read of.
O Oriens: 21 December
Oriens is the Morning Star: ‘O Morning stars together proclaim the holy birth, and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.’
Then there’s Venus, the Morning Star, hanging there in the dewy mist as the day breaks…
O Rex Gentium: 22 December
It means King of the people, as in: ’God rest ye merry, Gentium, let nothing you dismay…’!
O Emmanuel: 23 December
Easy, this one. God with us.’O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.’
I think of the O Antiphons like a plum pudding – rich and full of goodness; ancient and long lasting. A wonderful mixture of things which fill and nourish in ways supermarket Christmas food adverts cannot compete with.