Each year, we decide at the beginning of Advent that we are going to write a devotional book about the O Antiphons, those little bits of the daily office that mark the last week of Advent as a profoundly holy time. We've written about them before. We've sent you through links to O Sapientia, O Adonai, O Radix Jesse, O Clavis David, and O Emmanuel as seen through the eyes of our friends at Thinking Anglicans. We've read everything we can find about the Antiphons, including The Far-Spent Night, by Canon Edward Nason West (1960), Oliver Treanor's Seven Bells to Bethlehem (1995) and Sister Mary Winifred's Hasten the Kingdom (1996), as well as an older paraphrase by A.C.A. Hall. We've sung Veni veni Emmanuel with all the power our lungs have, hoping that with one more verse perhaps we'll be able to sit down after church and the words will tumble out across the page.
Each year we realize by about today that we're not going to make it. Gaudete Sunday has become a bit of a sign of failure, its rose-coloured vestments always reminding us that the third Sunday of Advent has arrived, that the fourth will soon be here, and the Christchild very soon thereafter. We want to say O No not already instead of O Sapientia quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti.
The truth is that this year and every year we want more Advent—more time in which to write this book that will not write itself, but also more time in which to learn the lessons of waiting and watching that this season holds for us. We know that such lessons are there, and we know that we've been too busy with work and noise of every kind to take the quiet time to learn them. We also know that no matter how politely we would ask the Church Commissioners or the Standing Liturgical Commission, we're unlikely to ever be given more Advent than we already have.
We have been too distracted this Advent by the Os the world has given us: O Wikileaks, O Coronation Street, O Obama, O Floods, O iPhone, O Panmunjom, O Default, O Euro, O Snowstorm, O John Lennon, O Tuition fees.
And we suppose we have also been distracted by another set of Os given us by the church militant here in earth: O General Synod, O Willesden, O Ordinariate, O Covenant, O Diocesan consolidation, O Lessons and Carols, O Acts of Faith.
Yet the silent, ancient, praying church still gives us its old, familiar Os around which to wrap our mouths and minds. There are O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring from on high, O King of the nations, and O Emmanuel. We all know them and intend to learn them afresh this year beginning on Thursday with O Virgo virginum.
But our research has turned up a long, rich list of Advent antiphons that didn't quite make it into standardised liturgical books after the dawn of printing. We suspect they'll give an even more textured look at the soul's Advent journey toward the Crib of Bethlehem if and when we have a chance to spend some time with them: O admirabile commercium, O beata infantia, O beata Thoma, O Bethlehem, O bone pastor, O cœlorum Domine, O cœlorum Rex, O decus apostolicum, O Domine fac, O Eloi gyrum, O Gabriel, O gloriose tactor, O Hierusalem, O mundi domina, O pastor Israel, O rex Israel, O Rex pacifice, O Sancte sanctorum, O Speculum, O Summe artifex, O Tetragrammaton, O Thoma Didyme.
O Wow, we hope you're saying just now along with us. The O Antiphons we thought we knew are just the tip of a liturgical iceberg. With careful archaeology, we may have turned up about 30 of them, a happy number for a liturgical season that lasts about that many days.
Would you buy and read a map to Antiphonland if we really were to write one? If so, we'll try again next year with God's help and a lot more writing time blocked out on our calendars.
Until then, we hope we'll see you next week, Os well in progress.
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