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Jesse TreeHallo again to all.

Today is the first day of Antiphontide—that last week of Advent in which Evening Prayer is sprinkled with some of the most loved pieces of western liturgical language. The core group of seven* are known best by their Latin names:

O Sapientia
O Adonai
O Radix Jesse
O Clavis David
O Oriens
O Rex Gentium
O Emmanuel

The brief texts are petitions during the final week of a pregnancy that will change the course of history and each one of our lives, greeted by a star and soldiers, shepherds and Magi, parents in awesome wonder at the end of nine months of anticipation. They are petitions for wisdom, prudence, teaching, redemption, enlightenment, salvation, deliverance. They are tacked on to the Virgin's Magnificat of praise at the moment of the Annunciation, joining in a paragraph the time of conception and the fast approach of the Child's arrival. They are texts on the urgent cusp of something, cautious about whether the birth will come before all things are in order.

We have written about them before. We have often told ourselves we'd like to write a short devotional book about them, and just never found the time. A friend in Pennsylvania has given an Advent retreat on the antiphons to her parishioners, and another friend in New York has written about the way in which they are observed in an Episcopal church there. Still others of our friends look forward to or become tired of the annual suggestion that someone should write a short story about the Antiphon Family of seven siblings named for the successive texts, each of whose character is either especially conformed or ill-conformed to the quality her or his name connotes.

In their diversity, the O Antiphons pull together 'the hopes and fears of all the years' as the requests of a vulnerable people: a people at the risk of being wounded while stateless, while giving birth in undesirable conditions, while in flight from the perennial Herod. There is no entitlement in the requests; there is the acclamation of the savior as a king, as a key, as God-with-us, as the morning-star who every day brightens our personal darkness or dimness, and there is a plea for help.

The Antiphons' summary of the human condition is not science-based, but it is evidence-based in ways any reasoning person can see. We need light. We need to be saved from ourselves. We need leadership, deliverance, redemption, instruction in the ways of prudence and wisdom. And we need the mystery of the holy birth that announces the fulfilment of them all in the life that began in a cratch in Bethlehem.

May the prayers of the Antiphons course through us this week, revealing our hearts to ourselves as the messy stables that they are, preparing our open hands to be the warm and sincere cradles that welcome him at our Christmas communion.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Our Signatures

Richard Mammana


All of us at Anglicans Online

17 December 2017

* English usage adds an eighth, O Virgo Virginum, and some French usage adds another, O Thomas Didyme. At least one nineteenth-century liturgical scholar was able to find 31 of them, an entire month's worth, with such wonders as O Rabbi, O Eloy, O Tetragrammaton, O Bethlehem, O Admirabile Commercium, O Speculum, O Summe Artifex, O Pastor Israel, O Hierusalem, etc.

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