Friday, December 16, 2011

The O Antiphons - an introduction

Today we begin our Advent reflections on the "O Antiphons" or "Great Antiphons."  These are the beautiful, biblically-based acclamations that cry out for the coming of the Messiah in late Advent. 

Catholics sing one of the "O Antiphons" at Evening Prayer (Vespers) from the 17th of December through the 23rd. Keeping this tradition in the digital age, we will post the O Antiphon for each of these days to help you pray for the coming of Christ and join us in this ancient Catholic tradition.  The Antiphon in English, its main Biblical sources, and a video of the Latin chant comprise each blog post.

Today we simply provide the historical background on the Antiphons.

The exact origin of the "O Antiphons" is not known. Boethius (480–524/5) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time.

At the Benedictine Saint Benedict Abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community.

By the eighth century, they were in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the "O Antiphons" was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases "Keep your O" and "The Great O Antiphons" were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the "O Antiphons" have been part of Western liturgical tradition since the very early Church.

The Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one—Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia—the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, "Tomorrow, I will come". Therefore Jesus, whose coming Christians have prepared for in Advent and whom they have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to them: "Tomorrow, I will come." So the "O Antiphons" not only bring intensity to their Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion.
 - Wikipedia, Saunders, William, What are the "O Antiphons"?,, retrieved 30 November 2009.