The O Antiphons - Part 6

Published: 22nd December, 2014

In the last days of Advent the Church sharpens its focus on the coming of Jesus. In particular it thinks about who the child born of Mary really is. The readings at Mass concentrate on the events that led up to his birth. They include the ancestry of Jesus, his conception by Mary, the part played by Joseph and the circumstances of the birth of that great herald, John the Baptist.

To provide even richer insight the Church has reused the ancient O Antiphons. They date back to 9th Century Gaul and were originally written for use at Evening Prayer of the Church to be sung before and after the Magnificat in the days leading up to Christmas. After the reforms of the Second Vatican Council it was decided to include them at the celebration of Mass as well so that more people would be able to hear and appreciate them. They now form the verses used at the Gospel Acclamation.

The O Antiphons take Biblical themes which express the mystery of Christ and weave them together. Five of them in the later middle ages were adapted to produce the hymn we now know as 'O come, O come, Emmanuel'. The stress of each Antiphon moves towards the word 'veni' - 'come' expressing the desire of the children of God for the return of Christ.

Each day they provide a wonderful opportunity to pause and think about what we are celebrating at this time of the year.

22nd December

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salve hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O King of the peoples and long desired by them, corner-stone of the church, Jew and Gentile you make one, Come save your people, made from the dust of the earth.

What do we truly long for and what really rules our lives? Only Jesus can satisfy our needs and only he can make life worth living. Describing Jesus as the King of the nations, this Antiphon speaks of him bringing reconciliation and peace to all peoples. Saint Paul reminds us that in Christ there is no distinction between Greek (Gentile) and Jew, free or slave. Jesus is the on who bring harmony and unity to mankind. He formed us with care breathing life into us as creatures of this earth. We ask for the breath of a new life founded on the rock of his love.

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