The O Antiphons - Part 7

Published: 23rd 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.

23rd December

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, Expectation of the nations and their Saviour, come save us, Lord our God.

We know that Emmanuel means 'God-with-us' and that for Jesus this title is supremely appropriate. Here he is described as the King and Lawgiver as well. We can reflect on how as God-among-us he is our gentle Shepherd-King who gives us a new Law or Commandment - the Law of Love. When the Antiphon uses the idea of him as expectation of the peoples it echoes something we heard of in the previous Antiphon - we are all full of longing and looking forward to something.

For most of us our hopes and expectations are a mixture of concerns for those we love and daydreams of what might be. This Antiphon helps us realise that in Jesus every real hope can be fulfilled, every genuine desire satisfied. By the time we get to the day of this last of the O Antiphons we are nearly at Christmas - it's time to start letting go of the dash and anxiety to begin concentrating on what Christmas really means. Tomorrow evening we shall celebrate the truth that God-is-with-us not just then, not just two thousand years ago, but now and always.

As a final flourish we are reminded that the order of these Antiphons has a little word-play in it. In Latin each theme begins with letters which if put together and spelt backwards makes a sentence 'ERO CRAS' which means 'Tomorrow I will be'. Jesus is all our tomorrows and always will be.

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