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O Antiphon for Dec. 18

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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 1 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.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • 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 2 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."

        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • 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 3 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

          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.

          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • 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 4 of 7 , Dec 20, 2009
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            O Dayspring


            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

            "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
            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

            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • 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 5 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.

              [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            • 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 6 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
                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
                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!

                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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