ODAY IS DECEMBER 17. It is seven days before Christmas Eve. Today is the day that Advent gets even more intense. The Church have chosen special Antiphons and Readings for the coming week to help us prepare the coming of Christ. The “O Antiphons“ are a set of antiphons for Vespers that is prayed during the coming seven days.
The reason why they are called the “O Antiphons“ is because each of them start with the letter “O”. In the Liber Usualis, they are called the “Great Antiphons”. They were mentioned in the 6th century and they were used in Rome by the 8th century. The texts of these antiphons are from the Old Testament Prophetic and Wisdom Books. These antiphons are recited or sung before and after the Magnificat, or the Canticle of Mary. Each of the antiphons begins by calling out a title of Christ:
O Sapientia………….O Wisdom
O Adonai……………..O Lord
O Radix Jesse………O Root of Jesse
O Clavis David……..O Key of David
O Oriens……………..O Dayspring/Dawn
O Rex Gentium…….O King of Nations
O Emmanuel………..O Emmanuel (God is with us)
There is a very cool fact about these titles. If you take the first letters of each titles and spell out from the last one, you will get: “EROCRAS”. And the Latin words “ero cras” means “I will be (there) tomorrow”. Here are the pages of the Great Antiphons from the Liber Usualis (Solesmes 1957) with English translations:
OWADAYS, many of us still sing the “O Antiphons” in Advent, just in a different setting. The text of the famous Advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, is from the Great Antiphons. And actually, Jeff Ostrowski just wrote about the Original Setting of the Tune yesterday.
As I was searching through other pieces that are related to the Great Antiphons, I found this Percussion Concerto below. The concerto, “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel“, was composed by Sir James MacMillan, a leading composer who have just been named Catholic of the Year by the Catholic Herald magazine. He has written music for Pope Benedict’s visit to England in 2010 and he has been commissioned recently to write a work for Shrine of Fátima’s centenary which will be attended by Pope Francis. James MacMillan is also the founder of Musica Sacra Scotland, an organization that promotes Gregorian Chant in Scotland.
The Scottish composer took the tune of the hymn as the theme of his work. It is a very interesting and intense piece! It is a non-liturgical piece. But one can listen to it and meditate on Mary and Joseph’s intense and difficult trip right before the birth of our Lord.