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Tag Archive: O Antiphons

O Emmanuel

Posted: Thursday, December 23, 2010 (6:36 am), by John W Gillis


“O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.” (O Antiphon for Dec 23rd)

The sequence of antiphons this week culminates today in what is one of the most outrageous claims ever made.

I was reading someone not too long ago who was speaking of the dangers that have historically been encountered whenever believers try to shift the focus of Christianity from the Passion/Resurrection to the Incarnation. Though the details escape me at this point, I recall it being a compelling read. But the tendency it criticized, if we can call it that, is also one that I am sympathetic to.

Part of that sympathy comes from the simple fact that the Passion & Resurrection take their distinctive character from the fact of the Incarnation – in other words, that they are dependent on it for their own ontological meaning. But it is also because the doctrine of the Incarnation is just so wildly exhilarating. The idea that the Creator becomes part of (and hence one with) His creation is mind-boggling, and casts a glow of sacredness and goodness over the whole creation – especially over the human race. Words would fail to describe what it would be to stand in the presence of the God-man.

We live in a world infatuated with celebrity. We put our faith in celebrities to save us from whatever it is we think concerns us. The news outlets are all atwitter day & night over disasters poised to overtake sports heroes and movie stars and other glitterati. Well, there goes the joy, for sure. Court jesters and talent-poor troubadours bask in glory as they lead social movements to eliminate unwanted human beings while saving the polar ice caps. The leader of the free world gets elected on charm and charisma, at best…

And to think that there once was a man born who was actually worthy of this kind of adulation. And to think that, through the Passion and resurrection, he is with us still, inviting us to partake of himself in Communion.

Embracing the Incarnation without the Passion might lead us to utopianism, but we shouldn’t lose our wonder and astonishment at the birth of God in a stable – and we sure shouldn’t be ready to trade the real deal for the cheap imitation of celebrity.

O Rex Gentium

Posted: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 (10:33 pm), by John W Gillis


“O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” (O Antiphon for Dec 22nd)

Of all the titles of Christ given in these antiphons, I find the notion expressed in today’s antiphon the most difficult to see my way clear to. The others all seem to allow a kind of "religious" perspective to them – “light” and “wisdom” and other even more abstract ideas. I don’t mean by that to contrast the obvious political character of the idea of King of nations against "religion" as if religion were a non-political aspect of life – nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I do not see how political life can be lived apart from religion, and political approaches that seek to marginalize religion cannot suppress "religion" itself, but only religious virtues and particular religious character – leaving an impoverished shell in place that is not some kind of non-religion, but a caricature of religion, set in the service of the prevailing ideology. No society is possible without some kind of shared framework of values and belief.

Instead, what I mean by the "religious perspective" of the first five titles in the sequence is almost the same thing as their political potentiality. What I mean is that they can be viewed as possessing some particular meaning, in some way, to a people to whom they appear not to be addressed. What I mean is that there are ways to see them in a less-than-catholic, less-than-universal light. That’s simply not the case with the antiphon today.

In proclaiming Christ "King of all the nations," there is only a total, subject "us" to be found; there is no "them." In this view, there is really only one relationship of true otherness, and that is the relationship between God and His People – and even that is transcended in Christ, as we explicitly celebrate in tomorrow’s antiphon.

O Oriens

Posted: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 (6:35 am), by John W Gillis


“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” (O Antiphon for Dec 21st)

Ironic, isn’t it?, that the antiphon for the Winter Solstice calls upon Christ as the Light of Dawn, or Rising Sun, or Dayspring from On High! Like all the antiphons of this octave, it recalls an Isaiahan Messianic prophecy: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (9:1 in NAB – 9:2 in most versions).

All the bells and whistles of this commercial season strike me as expressing something between a denial of the dreadful barrenness of the world in the darkness of winter, and a mockery of the hope that looks forward to new life springing out of that barrenness. The shadow of death has long fingers, and truly spares us not. Yet the frivolity we greet it with does not confront it with any kind of meaningful hope, but obscures it with a parade of jingle bells and other distracting inanities. And there are times in which that becomes more plainly evident than others; this is one of those times, I’m afraid.

O Clavis David

Posted: Monday, December 20, 2010 (6:30 am), by John W Gillis


“O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” (O Antiphon for Dec. 20th)

The antiphon today focuses on the authority of Christ:

The Holy One, the True One, the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens Revelation 3:7 (HCSB)

No small part of a genuine faith in Christ must be the hope that His authority is real and actual. Admittedly, it’s not entirely evident that such is the case. We indeed proclaim Him King (not just King-elect), and we know His law well enough, yet it is abundantly clear that He is not calling the shots in this world on a day-to-day basis – or at least that very few people pay the so-called King much heed.

It will not suffice to say that His time of authority within the historical sphere is yet to come, for the Gospel tells us plainly that He delegated His authority, to Peter (cf Mt 16:19), precisely for the sake of being exercised "on earth," within history. Yet, even many Christians today do not recognize that authority in Peter, insofar as the Petrine authority continues to be delegated down through the generations in history. Protestations that the delegation of authority was intended to be less personal and more broadly apostolic are empty, because, well, even if this were true – and were every bishop in the world to speak with one voice – the world would still yawn, along with many self-styled Christians, Catholic or otherwise.

The fact remains that the manifestation of Christ’s authority, delegated or not, seems far off. It is this manifestation that we pray for when we say "Come, Lord." But we should not be so naive as to think that the judgment executed at His coming will be as indifferent to justice as is the contemporary regime of public order, which ignores His authority (delegated or not).

And if that is true, then should we be so eager for His coming? For whether we are prepared for judgment ourselves or not, should we be so indifferent to the forthcoming judgment of others as to seek the coming of the Lord in times which are so notoriously unjust and indifferent to Christ’s Lordship?

O Radix Jesse

Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2010 (4:13 pm), by John W Gillis


“O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.” (O Antiphon for Dec. 19th)

 

The idea of the "root of Jesse" in Scripture is an interesting one, with a meaning that seems a bit fluid. The natural meaning of "root" is, unsurprisingly, a source or foundation. But as imagery, it also beckons to new growth coming forth from a devastated stump – as if that which grows from the root can be called the root, in the same way that people carry the names of their ancestors. It’s also associated with first fruits offerings.

Jesus complicates this meaning in Mt 22:45 (and parallels) when he says: “If David calls Him ‘Lord,’ how then can the Messiah be his Son?” (HCSB). “Root” takes on characters both etiological and eschatological.

Another “root of Jesse” we find in Scripture is Ruth: a woman of truly great character, as we see in her devotion to Naomi, to Naomi’s people, and to Naomi’s God. It strikes me how much of that same fierce loyalty seems to have made it into the blood of David, when he repeatedly demonstrates in his devotion to Saul, to Jonathan, and to the Lord. There’s a lot of Ruth in David, and I have little doubt that the contemporaries of the young Jesus said something similar of Him: "there’s a lot Mary in that boy." The apple never falls far from the tree, indeed.

O Sacred Lord

Posted: Saturday, December 18, 2010 (7:20 am), by John W Gillis


O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, and gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free. ("O Antiphon" for Dec. 18th)

I must admit: it is hard, in my circumstances, to relate meaningfully to the desire to be set free. I guess I have it pretty good. Freedom is, ostensibly at least, the fundamental principle of modern democracies. We not only don’t lack it, we could hardly get away from it if we tried. One could make a convincing argument that we have so much freedom, it is problematic.

In a certain sense, I know so much freedom in my life that I become complacent, unable to see well enough past this easy life to notice the darkened corners of creation awaiting the visit of God’s mighty hand. In another sense, freedom is so pervasive that it is vulgarized, reduced to the ability to get away with irresponsibility.

Jean Paul Sartre observed that we are always free, in that we always have choices to make as subjects, and that even seemingly overwhelming constraints in our circumstances never force us into specific responses as persons, as beings. The upshot to that is that there is no legitimacy in the constant refrain of excuses people make for their behaviors. We should not confuse expediencies for necessities.

The concluding prayer to today’s offices implores God to set us free from sin, and there can be no argument that I, like you, am by no means free from it. But I think Sartre’s point is well taken, and that even a total enslavement to sin is still a totally free disposition, in that it is freely chosen by the sinner. What we call compulsiveness is not truly compulsion, even when we have debased ourselves through chronic submission to a point of servile reactionaryism and passivity.

There is a sense in which freedom is an eschatological promise, yes, but it is also a fierce responsibility in this time of trial. We are burdened bearers of the awesome dignity of freedom, and we have no excuses. We call for Him to come, but will he find faith on earth? (cf Luke 18:8)

O Wisdom

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2010 (9:41 pm), by John W Gillis


O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care; come and show your people the way to salvation.

Today, we begin the Octave before Christmas, and  enter more intensely into the Advent season, as the final week of preparation begins for the celebration of God’s breaking into human history as a fully vested member of that history. From today until Christmas eve, the so-called “O Antiphons” are highlighted in the liturgy.

These ancient acclamations are best known as the texts of the seven verses of the venerable hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” In order, roughly translated, they are: O Wisdom; O Lord; O Root of Jesse; O Key of David; O Light of Dawn; O King of Nations; O Emmanuel (God with us). In the Latin, they are: O Sapientia; O Adonai; O Radix Jesse; O Clavis David; O Oriens; O Rex Gentium; O Emmanuel.

When you take the first letter of each acclamation in the Latin, S-A-R-C-O-R-E, and invert the order, they spell Ero Cras, which can be translated “Tomorrow I will be (there),” which we hear as a Divine answer to the Church’s plea, in each acclamation, for the Savior to come.

“To us the path of knowledge show” we sing to Wisdom in the hymn, while the world around us prattles on about the arrival of knowledge workers in the information age. But the words of the prophet Isaiah haunt me: “There are none who call upon your name.” (Isa 64:7)

The world, indeed, has grown weary of God, has found better things to rejoice in – has reverted even to seeking the answers to life’s riddles in the marvels and complexities of nature. But the words of an ancient Jewish sage indicts this world that waits for Santa Claus and forgets the name of God, all the while toying with the manufacture and destruction of human life:

Wisdom 13:1-9 (NAB)
    For all men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God,
        and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing
           him who is,
        and from studying the works did not discern the artisan;
    But either fire, or wind, or the swift air,
        or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water,
        or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world,
           they considered gods.
    Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods,
        let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these;
        for the original source of beauty fashioned them.
    Or if they were struck by their might and energy,
        let them from these things realize how much more powerful
           is he who made them.
    For from the greatness and the beauty of created things
        their original author, by analogy, is seen.
    But yet, for these the blame is less;
    For they indeed have gone astray perhaps,
        though they seek God and wish to find him.
    For they search busily among his works,
        but are distracted by what they see,
           because the things seen are fair.
    But again, not even these are pardonable.
    For if they so far succeeded in knowledge
        that they could speculate about the world,
        how did they not more quickly find its LORD? 

O, Emmanuel

Posted: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 (9:02 pm), by John W Gillis


“O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.” (O Antiphon for Dec 23rd)

The sequence of antiphons this week culminates today in what is one of the most outrageous claims ever made.

I was reading someone not too long ago who was speaking of the dangers that have historically been encountered whenever believers try to shift the focus of Christianity from the Passion/Resurrection to the Incarnation. Though the details escape me at this point, I recall it being a compelling read. But the tendency it criticized, if we can call it that, is also one that I am sympathetic to.

Part of that sympathy comes from the simple fact that the Passion & Resurrection take their distinctive character from the fact of the Incarnation – in other words, that they are dependent on it for their own ontological meaning. But it is also because the doctrine of the Incarnation is just so wildly exhilarating. The idea that the Creator becomes part of (and hence one with) His creation is mind-boggling, and casts a glow of sacredness and goodness over the whole creation – especially over the human race. Words would fail to describe what it would be to stand in the presence of the God-man.

We live in a world infatuated with celebrity. We put our faith in celebrities to save us from whatever it is we think concerns us. The news outlets in the Boston area are all atwitter tonight over a star free agent first baseman signing with the Yankees instead of the Red Sox. Well, there goes the joy, for sure. Court jesters and talent-poor troubadours bask in glory as they lead social movements to eliminate unwanted human beings while saving the polar ice caps. The leader of the free world gets elected on charm and charisma…

And to think that there once was a man born who was actually worthy of this kind of adulation. And to think that, through the Passion and resurrection, he is with us still, inviting us to partake of himself in Communion.

Embracing the Incarnation without the Passion might lead us to utopianism, but we shouldn’t lose our wonder and astonishment at the birth of God in a stable – and we sure shouldn’t be ready to trade the real deal for the cheap imitation of celebrity.

O, King of Nations

Posted: Monday, December 22, 2008 (9:36 pm), by John W Gillis


“O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” (O Antiphon for Dec 22nd)

I find the notion expressed in today’s antiphon the most difficult to see my way clear to. The others all seem to allow a kind of “religious” perspective to them. I don’t mean by that to contrast the obvious political character of today’s idea against “religion” as a non-political aspect of life – nothing could be further from the truth. I do not see how political life can be lived apart from religion, and political approaches that intend to marginalize religion cannot suppress “religion” itself, but only religious virtues and particular religious character – leaving an impoverished shell in place that is not non-religion, but a caricature of religion, set in the service of the prevailing ideology. No society is possible without some kind of shared framework of values and belief.

Instead, what I mean by “religious perspective” is almost the same thing as saying they have a political perspective. What I mean is that they can be viewed as particular, in some way, to a people who are not whomever they are not. What I mean is that there are ways to see them in a less-than-catholic light. That’s simply not the case with the antiphon today.

In proclaiming Christ “King of all the nations,” there is only an “us” to be found – there is no “them.” In this view, there is really only one relationship of complete otherness, and that is the relationship between God and His People, and even that is transcended in Christ, as we explicitly celebrate in tomorrow’s antiphon.

O, Light of Dawn

Posted: Sunday, December 21, 2008 (10:00 pm), by John W Gillis


“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” (O Antiphon for Dec 21st)

Natick, Massachusetts has been buried under a stubborn snowstorm over the past 48 hours or so, and it seems to have been a while since the light of dawn has made its presence felt. The feeling intensifies when I open my window to the world, and peer out at what is happening in my society today.

Christ, as the Sun of Justice, not only judges in righteousness, but also illuminates. For the second day in a row, the antiphon references the plight of those “who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79). This seems strangely appropriate as I look on the spectacle unfolding around Barack Obama’s invitation to Rick Warren to pray the invocation at Obama’s inauguration ceremony in January.

When I first saw the swirling blurbs of a scandal brewing, I immediately assumed that conservative Evangelicals (often wary of Rick Warren anyway) were inveighing against Warren for accepting the invitation, and therein supplying Obama’s image machine with a pretense of mainstream Evangelicalism’s accommodation of Obama’s notoriously radical and unholy social agenda. I will confess to having had some initial pangs of sympathy with that perspective (no doubt partly fueled by my own ambivalence toward Warren, whom I rightly or wrongly see as more of a best-selling promoter of self-help religion than a prophetic Christian witness), but I soon concluded that such reactionaryism was unwarranted – recognizing that the requirement to pray for and honor public leaders is not conditioned upon their policy aims – nor even their character.

How profoundly shocked I was, once I bit on some of the story teases, to learn that the outrage was coming from the left! Warren’s rejection of the “gay marriage” ploy is apparently enough to constitute him as a “bigot” unfit to give such a solemn invocation. But I have to ask, what does that make every other minister who has ever given the invocation for the Presidential office? For that matter, what does it make virtually every single human being who has ever populated this sorry planet?

Shine upon those in darkness and the shadow of death, indeed, O Light of Dawn.