This year, as always, the monks and nuns share a special paraliturgy with a loving cup of spiced wine (my job, traditionally and quite good this year,) on the day of O Sapientia, Dec. 17th, the first of the Great or O Antiphons. This is followed by a festive meal for both communities in the monks' refectory and is one of our happiest celebrations all year. It is also a busy day, which is why I didn't get this out yesterday!! I will combine the first two Antiphons today.
Please forgive the different margins. I cannot get the document out of my Word program and had to open it in another program, leaving me with little I can do to edit!
"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!
"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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