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O Antiphon for Dec. 20

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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 1 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 2 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 3 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 4 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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