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O Antiphon for Dec. 17

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  • Br. Jerome Leo
    +PAX A re-run, but hope it brightens your late Advent prayers! December 17 O Wisdom, You came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching from
    Message 1 of 7 , Dec 16, 2009
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      A re-run, but hope it brightens your late Advent prayers!

      December 17
      "O Wisdom, You came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and
      reaching from beginning to end, You ordered all things mightily and
      sweetly. Come and teach us the way of prudence."

      Much of what I write to you about the O Antiphons comes from what
      Abbot Lawrence of St. Augustine's Abbey, Ramsgate, Kent, told us in
      his conferences. I've added a thing or two to this one, as well.
      These Great Antiphons, which are sung at the Magnificat of Vespers
      during the last days before Christmas, are among the oldest and most
      poetic parts of the Western Liturgy. Their language soars and waxes
      in elegance that one rarely finds in later forms. Yet, in all that
      exquisite poetry, awesome theology, more to the point, Christology
      abounds.

      The Old Testament treats of Wisdom as the eldest daughter of
      creation, but also as a co-creator with God. Many of the OT
      references are commonly (and easily,) applied to the Holy Spirit, but
      this antiphon clearly applies them to Jesus.

      A recurring theme in the O Antiphons is the ascription of qualities
      of Yahweh to Christ, underlining the fact that all of God's divinity
      is Christ's as well. The phrase here "from beginning to end" stresses
      the eternal divinity of Christ, before all time, and the fact that
      He "ordered all things mightily and sweetly" recalls the role of the
      Logos, the Word, as creator of all things in the Prologue to St.
      John's Gospel.His might is gentle, not harsh, He is forceful and
      holds a creator's power, but sweetly, bearing these two traits, not
      in contrast, but in perfect, divine complement. Think of the greatest
      and most effective security protection imaginable, now think of that
      with none of the harsh sides of such power, but with the utmost
      tenderness of the gentlest of mothers. Multiply that image by
      infinity and you might have a faint fraction of the tenderness of God
      which enfolds His utter and absolute power. We have learned (often
      quite rightly!) to fear power, yet in God the power is to nurture, to
      love, to caress, not to harm. He cares deeply for
      all He orders "mightily and sweetly" and that especially includes us!



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    • Br. Jerome Leo
      PAX December 18 O Adonai and Ruler of the house of Israel, You appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and on Mount Sinai gave him Your Law: Come,
      Message 2 of 7 , Dec 17, 2009
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        December 18
        "O Adonai and Ruler of the house of Israel, You appeared to Moses in
        the fire of the burning bush, and on Mount Sinai gave him Your Law:
        Come, and with an outstretched arm redeem us!"

        Adonai, the Hebrew word meaning "Lord" had its vowel points used
        under the divine Name in Hebrew to warn the reader to substitute the
        euphemism "Lord" rather than say God's Name. Applied to Jesus, in
        symbolic shorthand this says that Jesus is the God of the Covenant.
        In NT Greek, this was rendered "Kyrios" and therein lies an
        interesting connection to another antiphon, that of the Magnificat on
        Ascension. There, in the words of St. John's Gospel, Jesus tells His
        Father: "I have made known Your Name." The name here is Yahweh, since
        the Greek referent is Kyrios. In other words, to say Adonai of Jesus
        is plainly to say that Jesus is God, is Yahweh.

        The use of "house" here is in the sense of "family", Jesus is the
        Ruler of the family of Israel. One may see a survival of that usage
        of house in our modern reference to the "house" of Windsor to mean
        the whole royal family. (Believe it or not, the Windsor reference
        came from me, the Yank.)

        The stress of connections between Yahweh and Jesus is repeated twice
        more: it was Jesus Who spoke to Moses in the burning bush, Jesus Who
        gave the Law on Sinai. The first has always been a more popularly
        known patristic idea in the East. I have had Western priests come
        hesitantly close to arguing with me when I have expressed that very
        strong tradition in the East of Christ in the burning bush. Perhaps
        they are to be forgiven for forgetting an antiphon that only comes
        once a year, but lex orandi, lex credendi: the law of prayer is the
        law of faith.

        A third and final identification of Jesus with Yahweh is the image of
        the outstretched arm. The OT is rich with references to this. It is
        with "outstretched arm" that God shows His power and might, leads His
        people out of Egypt, delivers them from dangers. Just as Jesus was
        identified with the burning bush and the Law, so now He is linked to
        the Passover itself.


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      • Br. Jerome Leo
        +PAX O Root of Jesse, You stand for an ensign of mankind; before You kings shall keep silence, and to You all nations shall have recourse. Come and save us
        Message 3 of 7 , Dec 18, 2009
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          "O Root of Jesse, You stand for an ensign of mankind; before You
          kings shall keep silence, and to You all nations shall have recourse.
          Come and save us and do not delay."

          Isaiah prophesied the destruction of Judah and of David's kingdom.
          However a stock, a root, a stump, if you will, would remain, the root
          of Jesse, David's father. From that stock a sprout would burst forth
          which would be more than David, Whose power and esteem would be
          greater than that of the former kingdom.

          Those of us living in the north can well appreciate this image.
          Winter comes, long winter, and nothing visible of a perennial's
          splendor remains. Hidden in the earth, the life, the promise waits in
          the roots for spring. One clips the ugly remnant to the ground and
          awaits the resurgence in the coming Spring. There was a long winter
          of centuries for Jesse's Root, but, when its Spring came it flowered
          forth Christ, the Messiah.

          When Christ appears, He is, like the first sprigs of spring growth,
          much smaller than the tree which had been felled, and seemingly
          weaker and more vulnerable, yet His power and scope is far, far
          greater than that of those who preceded Him. Just as in the
          gentleness/strength contrast of ordering all things mightily and
          sweetly, here the apparent weakness, smallness and vulnerability of a
          new shoot is the embodiment of the greatest power imaginable. Jesus
          IS God, but He comes in vesture that hardly brings to mind a power
          broker. It is the topsy-turviness of the Gospel paradox.

          This tender Sprig is actually an ensign for the nations, a rallying
          flag for all peoples and it is so in a way that the mighty tree of a
          kingdom which came first could never have hoped to be. Whatever may
          have been the temporary influence and prestige of Israel's kings, it
          was nothing compared to what is promised here.

          What we translate as "nations" and Latin renders as "gentes" had a
          very different significance for the Hebrews. By that term, they
          really meant "Gentiles" everyone who was not Jewish which, of course,
          included every nation- all the nations- other than themselves. Hence,
          this term, easily missed as innocuous in English or Latin, is far
          from it. It speaks directly to opening the promise of God's salvation
          to ALL peoples, to the New Israel which is the Body of Christ, whose
          membership is potentially the entire world. The tiny Branch will
          break down walls and barriers.

          This is the first day we add some special urgency to our daily plea
          of "come!" We add: "and do not delay." The most casual glance at the
          world's leaders and the state of things today will reveal that the
          fullness of the Messiah's role as a rallying point for all, before
          Whom all rulers shall be silent, is hardly just around the corner. We
          affirm that by our urgency, by begging Him to hurry!

          A final Benedictine aside, which I think plays so well with the
          imagery of this antiphon may be found in a popular symbol for Monte
          Cassino. The great abbey, so often destroyed in its long history, is
          depicted as the stump of a huge and mighty tree, with a tender green
          shoot growing from its center. The Latin motto which accompanies the
          image is "Succisa Virescit" that is, "Cut down, it grows back."


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        • Br. Jerome Leo
          +PAX O Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel: You open and none may close, You close and none may open. Come and deliver from the chains of prison
          Message 4 of 7 , Dec 19, 2009
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            "O Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel: You open and none
            may close, You close and none may open. Come and deliver from the
            chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of
            death."

            The Hebrew word for key means something that opens, while the Greek and Latin
            terms both refer to something which closes. Jesus is the Key and He
            can open us to infinite possibilities, just as He can also close us
            to shut us away from dangers. He can open our prisons and free us,
            but He can also lock the city gates for our safety. When He opens,
            none may close, when He closes, none may open: when Jesus makes an
            election or decision for us it is irrevocable.

            The key is a symbol of authority. Even today, in the blessing of an
            abbot or abbess, a very important symbolic act is the handing over of
            the keys to the abbey, clearly pointing to the authority enjoyed over
            it by the one newly blessed. Jesus speaks of the keys of the kingdom
            on heaven, and demonstrates that He Himself holds them by His ability
            to hand them over to His Church. Isaiah 22:22 repeats the antiphon
            almost word for word, but it is not necessarily a messianic passage.
            It refers to a civil ruler whom God supports. His key of the house of
            David underscores the approval God gives to all his acts. St. John
            applies this passage to Jesus, and the liturgy follows suit.

            Most appropriately, since today we praise the supreme divine
            authority of Jesus with the symbol of a key, we ask Him to open our
            prisons of darkness and unlock the chains of sin and death that bind
            us still. It might be useful to remember that, as He opens, none may
            close. Hence, if He frees us from sin and death, from the various
            prisons of darkness we languish in, none may send us back there, save
            ourselves alone.



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          • Br. Jerome Leo
            +PAX O Dayspring +PAX I realize that most modern renderings have O Rising Dawn , but indulge me in this one. As a lover of Gerard Manley Hopkins, I vastly
            Message 5 of 7 , Dec 20, 2009
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              O Dayspring

              +PAX

              I realize that most modern renderings have "O Rising Dawn", but
              indulge me in this one. As a lover of Gerard Manley Hopkins, I vastly
              prefer the much more poetic "O Dayspring" And besides, who said
              translation must be pedestrian to be relevant? (It often seems
              someone must have....) "Daypsring" also carries the hopeful connotation of
              Spring-to-come, of Resurrection, a powerful thought on the first day of
              winter!


              "O Dayspring, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice; come
              and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death."

              I wonder if the appearance of today's sun image landed on the winter
              solstice accidentally. Given the Middle Ages' fascination with such
              things, one would suspect it was deliberate choice. Just as the
              natural sun ebbs to it weakest point, the Sun of Justice Who shall
              never diminish, is proclaimed. The images today, while reflected in
              both Old and New Testaments are more from nature than those of the
              days preceding.

              Jesus calls Himself the Light and the Life. Surely the sun gives
              both, and so, here, does the Sun of Justice. We could not live without
              the sun; our planet would be a barren, frozen wasteland without it.

              The image of dawn, of the dayspring, holds a further message: the sun
              at noon is at its peak of light and heat, but the gentler sun of both
              rising and setting is not only softer and less extreme, but floods
              the sky and the earth with its lovelier color and majesty. This is yet
              another
              repetition of the theme of gentleness/strength.

              The reference to the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:1-2) contrasts two
              experiences of the Messianic power "glowing like a furnace." For the wicked,
              it will burn them like chaff, but for those who fear God's name, "the sun of
              righteousness shall rise with healing." Jesus' power and majesty and
              strength are truly a balm to us.

              Naturally, to Christian (and especially Benedictine!) ears, the most
              obvious connections here will be those of the Benedictus, the
              Canticle of Zachary in Luke 1:78-79, the "Oriens ex alto", the
              dayspring from on high, which shall burst forth and shine on all
              those "who sit in darkness and the shadow of death." The message
              today is the end of darkness, the end of shadow, the end of death.
              The Messiah, the Sun of Righteousness has dispelled them all.

              The Radiance of the Light eternal is found in Hebrews 1:3 as an
              attribute of Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity. My favorite
              translation, the New English Bible, renders it thus: "...the Son Who
              is the effulgence of God's splendour and the stamp of God's being and
              sustains the universe by His word of power." The Son is, as we say in
              the Creed, truly "Light from Light." He would not have to do anything
              to end the world, He would have to STOP doing something, stop willing
              it and us, stop sustaining it. The creation is the daily and ever
              present act of the Son, something ongoing in His will maintaining all
              that is.

              Those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death are not just a
              group of outsiders. There are many such corners of gloom in our own
              souls, to which we frequently retire for a holiday from the struggles
              of grace. Today we invite the Sun to illuminate even those recesses,
              to leave us no place to hide from Him in the damp and chill of
              selfishness.




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            • Br. Jerome Leo
              +PAX O King of the nations [Gentiles] and Desired of all, You are the cornerstone that binds two into one: Come, and save humankind whom You formed out of
              Message 6 of 7 , Dec 21, 2009
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                "O King of the nations [Gentiles] and Desired of all, You are the
                cornerstone that binds two into one: Come, and save humankind whom
                You formed out of clay."

                The antiphons before today were heavily Jewish in their Messianic
                content and this one begins that way, but then presents a radical
                stumbling to Israel's usual position. The Jews of Jesus' time were not
                exactly noted for rabid ecumenism. Their customary ecumenical stance was, alas,
                rather closely akin to that of: "Someday
                they'll all come crawling and groveling to us on OUR terms."

                No problem for the Jews with "King of nations" (Jer. 10:7) or the
                Desired of all, (Hag.2:8) these fit the old pattern comfortably.
                There is even a cornerstone tradition in Isaiah 28:16, but "as the
                foundation of Sion," not a union with all peoples. The jarring note
                is in "the cornerstone that binds the two into one." This is
                definitely not the way Israel expected the Gentiles to "wake up and
                get with it." This is God Himself being the binder, even part of the
                bond, the very cause of unity. This is that perfect union which does
                not make those united feel smaller or less, because God Himself is
                thrown into the breach of union.

                Just as Christ has broken down the walls dividing us from the Father,
                so is He also the cause and source of our unity with all humanity.
                This is very Pauline, expressed in both Eph.2:14 and Gal.3:29 as
                Christ being the peace between Jew and Gentile. That wall, humanly
                speaking, between Jew and Gentile was very high. Jews could not eat
                with Gentiles, many civil observances of foreign lands were
                proscribed for them and their refusal to follow these was a source of
                frequent persecution. In Mosaic law, Jewish nationality was conferred
                by birth from a Jewish mother. The children of a Jewish man and a non-
                Jewish wife would not even be Jews, a fact still true today.

                The quote from Galatians has further applications to human
                unity: "There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and free, male
                and female; for you are all one person in Christ Jesus. But if you
                thus belong to Christ, you are the issue of Abraham and so heirs by
                promise." Here we see not only the wall dividing Jew and Gentile torn
                down, but even the customary way of becoming Jews and heirs to the
                promise overthrown. No Jewish male could confer birth membership in Israel.
                It travelled through the mother. St. Paul, writing about Christ, makes it clear that He unites
                all in a new dispensation, one which supersedes the old.

                The Old Israel cherishes promises and waits for their fulfillment.
                The New Israel, in its delight that the Messiah has come, often
                forgets that it, too, must wait for the fulfillment of the promise
                and that the waiting is terrible, painful frustration. No one can
                look at the quote from Galatians and smugly assume that we are there.
                Anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, religious hatreds,
                misogyny and misandry color our world.
                Hate crimes fill the news all too often. (Once would be too often...)
                We have made a stab at slave and free, but little more than that.

                What we miss is that these changes have already been effected,
                perfectly, in Christ. The unity, the equality, promises are here:
                they are REAL. All that impedes their full realization is just that:
                their "real-ization" and discovery in our human hearts. The way to
                bring about the promise is to live as if it were already here:
                because it is! If every person did that, even to their own personal
                cost and detriment, you would see changes in our world and churches
                literally overnight.

                Lastly, there is a reality check that is not too palatable to our
                modern ears, the reminder that we were formed out of clay. Several
                decades of self-affirming pop psychology in the late 20th century may
                have done their work a bit too well in some of us. The Latin "limus"
                which is here rather flatteringly rendered as "clay" has the more
                common sense of "mud, slime, or mire." Even if we now realize that
                the creation of humanity was not a literal case of God making patty-
                cake with clay, the message here is quite clear. The most cursory
                examination of conscience will reveal how close to our origins we can
                often slip. (You potters out there should pardon the pun...)

                If this reflection may have inflamed a few, please do not blame Abbot
                Lawrence. Most of this was me, after reading Parsch.




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              • Br. Jerome Leo
                +PAX Since the 24th is First Vespers of Christmas, actually beginning the solemnity, today s antiphon is the last of the great O Antiphons. The Roman Church
                Message 7 of 7 , Dec 22, 2009
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                  Since the 24th is First Vespers of Christmas, actually beginning the
                  solemnity, today's antiphon is the last of the great O Antiphons. The
                  Roman Church formerly made more extensive use of the Jewish custom of
                  beginning feasts the night before, spanning sunset to sunset, but now
                  reserves that practice for Sundays and solemnities. Too bad, in a
                  way. First Vespers of many lesser feasts used to be a joy, and it was
                  a further connection to our Jewish roots.

                  A bit of trivia, for which I am indebted to Joyce, who learned it in a
                  Dominican
                  college in the 50's. If you take the first letters of the second words (after
                  the initial O,) which begin each antiphon, you get the acronym: SARCORE.
                  Read backwards, on Dec. 24, that spells "Ero cras" Latin for "Tomorrow I
                  will be (there)".
                  Now some monastic of the Middle Ages must have had a lot of time on his (or
                  her!)
                  hands to figure that one out.


                  "O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of Nations and their
                  Savior: come, and save us, O Lord our God!"

                  Emmanuel- God with us- this was a radical fulfillment of the
                  Messianic prophecies which the Jews had never dreamed would happen: a
                  divine Messiah. Though the promises all refer to and fit Jesus, the
                  Messiah expected by the Israelites was not divine. To their
                  reasoning, none could be literally divine, really the Son of God.
                  Their expectation of a saving ruler did not assume that God would
                  share His very nature and essence with the Anointed One.

                  Emmanuel reflects an entirely Christian and entirely new theology,
                  one of Incarnation and an immanence hitherto unknown. God with us,
                  sharing every hardship of humanity in His own flesh, dwelling not in
                  a Temple spiritually, but as flesh and blood among humanity, wishing
                  to remain with us until the end of time. This is a dramatic contrast
                  to the affection, yet distance with which the Lord was regarded in
                  the Old Testament.

                  Emmanuel- God with us- it finally springs the liturgical construct
                  of "waiting" all these weeks and admits that we knew He was there all
                  along. Advent has that flavor, of a pretended waiting for Him Whom we
                  know to have already arrived. We place ourselves in the shoes of
                  those who had Him not in order to better appreciate Him Whom we have
                  had all along.

                  We hail Christ as King and Lawgiver (Isaiah 32:22,) and echo the
                  dying words of Jacob in Gen. 49:10, " The scepter will not pass from
                  Judah, nor a ruler from his thigh, till He comes that is to be sent.
                  He is the expectation of the nations." We ask Him to save us. The
                  Latin "Salva" , the imperative form of "to save," is related
                  to "salus", health, wholeness. We are asking for a holistic well-
                  being of mind, soul and body when we thus ask to be saved. We
                  are, in fact, asking to finally be made perfect, fully whole and sound,
                  something only God can do!

                  Lastly, we no longer beat around the bush, (burning or otherwise!) We
                  come right out and directly call Jesus "our Lord and our God." It is
                  the crowning acclamation of faith to a long season of expectation.

                  A blessed late Advent and Christmas to you all. I have enjoyed
                  sharing these with you because I truly feel they are the best poetry
                  left in the liturgy of the West, even beating out the now pared-down
                  Exultet at Easter!



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