“O Sapientia” – 17th December

Advent, as we all know, is a time of longing, expecting – waiting and hoping that Jesus will come anew to each of us.

Yesterday we began our 9-day Novena for the great feast of Christmas, and today and for the next six days we accentuate that longing and find its expression most beautifully in the great Vesper antiphons for the Magnificat, called the “O” antiphons, because they all begin with ‘O’. These antiphons will be used each evening before and after the Magnificat, and as the Gospel Acclamation at Mass, daily, for the next 7 days.

The initials of each antiphon in Latin, in reverse order are:

E = Emmanuel

R = Rex (King)
O = Oriens (Rising Sun)
C = Clavis (Key of David)
R = Radix (Root of Jesse)
A = Adonai (Leader of Israel)
S = Sapientia (Wisdom)
They create the acrostic : EROCRAS – the translation of which is : ‘Tomorrow I shall be there’ – and this is seen as the answer of Christ to the intensity of the longing prayer, and the yearning of the one praying the antiphons during the seven days.

The ‘O’ antiphons are thought to have been composed in the 8th Century by some anonymous cantor, and they achieved great popularity in the Middle Ages. Great solemnity attended their intonation in the monasteries. They were sung in the solemn tone of the great feasts, the great bell of the abbey was tolled and beginning with the abbot, they were intoned by the chief holders of the monastery.

The antiphons are mosaics of Scripture texts, expressing a longing for salvation and liberation; they express the theology of Advent and are the season’s brightest jewels. It is said our recently beatified Cardinal John Newman prayed one of these antiphons on his visits to the Blessed Sacrament.

In a few moments we will sing the first ‘O’ antiphon in Latin – O Sapientia so I will give one English translation of it:

O Wisdom
You come forth form the mouth of the Most High.
You fill the universe and hold all things together
in a strong yet gentle manner.
O come
to teach us the way of truth.

It’s an antiphon full of Biblical references. The Wisdom books of the Old Testament contain many passages in praise of wisdom. We read of Wisdom as proceeding from God, as being begotten by Him, as the breath of His power. Wisdom is the beloved daughter who at the beginning of creation stood before God assisting in the creation of the visible universe. From the concept of wisdom there later developed the doctrine of the Logosthe Word in St John’s Gospel:

All things were made by Him
And without Him was made nothing that was made.

As St Paul says, ‘Christ is the wisdom of God’ – He is our wisdom.

So the first ‘O’ antiphon cries out to Jesus, God’s Wisdom incarnate and the Eternal Word of God, who upholds and governs all creation and orders all things powerfully yet gently (sweetly) to

come and teach us Truth
(or prudence as the Latin has).

Yes, Christ is always faithful – ‘ERO CRAS’ – ‘Tomorrow I shall be there’.Will I be there to meet Him?

Will you take the time to meet Him?