Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Great "O" Antiphons

I got all tangled up this morning while tracking down the details of a 1927 murder trial --- and came up short on anything to post here. 

While focused on murder and mayhem in the streets of Chariton, however, I've been listening to a favorite CD of the holiday season, "An Advent Procession based on the Great 'O' Antiphons," recorded years ago at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle.

The “O” Antiphons are seven brief prayers traditionally spoken, chanted or sung in sequence, one each during evening prayer, or vespers, in the final days of Advent, a period known as the Octave before Christmas which begins on Dec. 17 and concludes on Dec. 24 with the Christmas Vigil.

The Great O’s are among the oldest liturgical elements of Advent we have, found in literature dating to the sixth century and familiar in monasteries across Christendom by the eighth. Traditionally used with the Magnificat, the O’s are most familiar in the Roman, Anglican/Episcopal and Lutheran churches.

Each antiphon begins with the acclamation “O,” followed by titles for the Messiah based upon the prophecy of Isaiah --- O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Dayspring), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations) and O Emmanuel (O God with Us).

I’m willing to bet that the Great O’s don’t come up very often in casual conversation. But most of us have heard them, in the form of the familiar Advent hymn, “O come, o come Emmanuel” (“Veni, veni Emmanuel”). 

This version, thought to date from the twelfth century, has been translated from the Latin. Its setting, usually ascribed to a fifteenth century processional for Franciscan nuns, may have its origins in eighth century Gregorian chants.

"Veni, veni Emmanuel" concludes the aforementioned recording. Not a bad way to begin the day.

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