Slouching toward Bethlehem in 2019

O-Antiphons-adventChristian daily prayer has fixed poles in its main western expressions: the Venite (O come, let us sing unto the Lord) in the morning; the Magnificat (My soul doth magnify the Lord) and the Nunc dimittis (Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace) in the evening. All three of the canticles are unvarying parts of what the intentional Christian community says in unison every day of the year. This makes them by their very nature “monotonous” in a neutral meaning of the term. Over centuries, medieval tradition added short texts to be said before and after the fixed canticles as a way of relieving this monotony, and also amplifying the hymns’ meanings during the course of the Christian year. They are called antiphons. Not exactly decorations for the set texts that assert the Christian worshipers’ continuity with the worship of Israel and Jesus’ understood fulfillment of the Jewish messianic vision, the antiphons nevertheless give a special character to every day when they return in the Prayer Book during the year.

The most famous antiphons in European Christianity are the O Antiphons from the final days of Advent, digested and popularized in the beloved hymn O come, O come, Emmanuel:

December 16. O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
December 17. O Adonai (O Lord)
December 18. O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
December 19. O Clavis David (O Key of David)
December 20. O Oriens (O Dayspring)
December 21. O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
December 22. O Emmanuel (O Emmanuel)
December 23. O Virgo Virginum (O Virgin of Virgins)

It has been generally forgotten that there are an abundance of other O-beginning antiphons in local Christian traditions. Fittingly, there are 31, enough to make a full December of additions to the Venite and the Mag and Nunc.

Visit here each day in Advent and beyond to read and mark with holy scripture the mighty acts that find their expression in the mouth forming itself around a gesture of openness and wonder: O come, let us sing unto the Lord. O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Beginning tomorrow, we will look in sincerity and occasional good humor at the full list of 31 (here given alphabetically, because that is how nineteenth century liturgical scholars sorted them):

1. O admirabile commercium (O wondrous exchange)
2. O Adonai (O Lord)
3. O beata Infantia (O blessed infancy)
4. O beate Thoma (O blessed Thomas)
5. O Bethlehem
6. O Bone pastor qui animam (O good shepherd who laid down thy life)
7. O Bone Pastor visite (O good shepherd, visit)
8. O Clavis David (O Key of David)
9. O coelebs pudica (O righteous bachelor)
10. O coelorum Domine (O Lord of the heavens)
11. O coelorum Rex (O king of the heavens)
12. O decus apostolicum (O ornament of the apostles)
13. O Domine fac (O Lord, make)
14. O Eloi gyrum qui contines (O hosts of Elohim who contain)
15. O Emmanuel
16. O Gabriel
17. O gloriose tactor (O glorious one who touched)
18. O Hierusalem (O Jerusalem)
19. O Oriens (O Dayspring)
20. Orietur sicut sol salvator mundi (As the sun rises like the savior of the world)
21. O Pastor Israel (O Shepherd of Israel)
22. O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
23. O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
24. O rex Israel (O King of Israel)
25. O rex pacifice (O King of Peace)
26. O Sancte Sanctorum (O holy of holies)
27. O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
28. O speculum (O Mirror)
29. O summe artifex (O Highest Architect)
30. O Thoma Didyme (O Thomas the Twin)
31. O Virgo Virginum (O Virgin of Virgins)

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