O Antiphons

December 18th, 2006
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I’ve never understood all the enthusiasm for the "O Antiphons." But, now I do. Thanks for all the comments that persuaded me to give these more attention, prayerfully, which is what they are meant to be: aids for devotion to our Blessed Lord.

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  1. weedon
    December 18th, 2006 at 19:08 | #1

    Delight in them because of what they give you of Jesus. Today, for instance, is “O Adonai” and confesses that it was none other than our Lord who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, who spoke to him on Sinai and gave the Law, and so to we ask from Him a gift: “Come with an outstretched arm and redeem us!”
    Each Antiphon, dwelling upon a Name of God, teaches us how to pray from that name, to “pull out of it” the petitions we present before our Lord Jesus.
    And besides, they are just fun. Read backwards they announce: ERO CRAS. That is, “I’ll be here tomorrow.” Fitting for a series that ends up on December 23.
    By the way, their use was not purely medieval. The Magdegburg Book from 1613 shows them still in use in the Lutheran Church, with their traditional melodies even.

  2. December 19th, 2006 at 07:14 | #2

    I would say another reason is that, whatever the merit of the actual content of the antiphons, they differentiate the time leading up to Christmas from “ordinary time”. Especially in the form of the Carol “O come, O come Emmanuel”, they increase the spirit of expectation from the 3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete, “Rejoice”) onwards toward Christmas. I have had great joy (!) in teaching all eight verses to my daughters this Advent. Let us say that the Antiphons add “colour” to the Advent Season, as well as well as poetry and vividness. Let us not be “grey men” when it comes to the liturgy!

  3. December 19th, 2006 at 07:22 | #3

    It is significant every time one prays the Divine Office at Vespers there is an antiphon for the Magnificat. I don’t know that I personally would say that the O Antiphons are the most beautiful or best. Many of the others, in fact, are verbatim scripture. The O Antiphons are very beautiful, though, and perhaps they are for many an ocassion to begin to actually get into the Divine Office. And it is there, in the ongoing practice of the Daily Office, that one will begin to fully appreciate the Antiphons. Also, I am not sure exactly what your point is when you state: “they were chanted at Vesper services in Medieval monasteries.” [McCain: Merely their historic background, that's all]. It is the case, in fact, that they have been prayed by the Church, in monasteries and parish churches, for centuries, and continue to be prayed throughout the world. Finally, I don’t at all condemn you for your question. One general truth this raises, I think, is that one need not fully understand or appreciate or comprehend a particular aspect of the Church’s liturgy in order to first decide to accept it. Otherwise we stand as authority over the liturgy. The Christian cannot fully comprehend that which comprehends him.
    [McCain: I'm not really in agreement with the "embrace it even if you don't understand it" approach in regard to the liturgy. I've read about recent converts to Orthodoxy claiming that they embraced it mindful that they could not understand aspects of Orthodox practice, but just had to "accept it." I'm not at all comfortable with this sentiment. I appreciate the conversation about the "O Antiphons" for it is precisely in that discussion that my appreciation for them is growing. Why? Because people are helping me understand them and their benefit and use. It would be an unfortunate thing simply to tell people who have serious questions about this or that aspect of our Lutheran liturgical practices, "Oh, it's ok if you don't understand it, just accept it, even if you don't understand why we do it this or that way."]

  4. Matthew J. Surburg, M.D.
    December 19th, 2006 at 16:32 | #4

    I enjoy them for the same reason that I love the liturgy.
    1. They tell us what God has done for us in Christ.
    2. They are an aid to teaching.
    3. They are beautiful.

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