*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Advent antiphons

by
10 December 2008

The O Antiphons of Advent link present-day worship with that of at least 1300 years ago. Malcolm Guite has responded to them in verse

Detail from an earthenware Passover plate, Spain, c.1480 ISRAEL MUSEUM/NAHUM SLAPAK

Detail from an earthenware Passover plate, Spain, c.1480 ISRAEL MUSEUM/NAHUM SLAPAK

The Prayer Book calendar for 16 December contains a mysterious exclamation: “O Sapientia!”, which echoes across the gulf of reformation from a tradition going back at least to the eighth century, the tradition of the “Great O Antiphons”.

These antiphons consist of lapidary Latin prayers, invoking Christ, and calling on him to come to us. Beginning with the cry “O”, each goes on to address Christ, not directly, but by an allusive title, drawn from Old Testament prophecy. (In England, there was an eighth, O Virgo virginum, addressed to the Virgin Mary.)

These are titles that illuminate all he might become for us: O Wisdom, O Key, O Root, O Light, O King. Each antiphon surges to the strong verb “Come,” and ends with a petition: Come and teach us, save us, bring us light.

The antiphons were sung in the last days of Advent as acclamations on either side of the Magnificat, framing Mary’s great song of expectation. When the last of them was sung, the singer could look back over the titles of Christ he had invoked, and see that their illuminated first letters spelled the words ERO CRAS, the promise Christ fulfils on Christmas Day: “Tomorrow I will be there.”

The sonnets were written as meditations on, and conversation with, each antiphon, exploring the ways in which those ancient titles of Christ — root, key, and light — might resonate with our present-day concerns. Since the antiphons were originally intended as a framing refrain, set on either side of the Magnificat, we found that it made most sense liturgically to use the appropriate antiphon to frame each sonnet. So one voice reads or sings the antiphon, another voice reads the responding sonnet, and then the congregation repeats the antiphon, now opened out in some sense by the poem.

The Revd Dr Malcom Guite is Chaplain of Girton College and Assistant Vicar-Chaplain at St Edward, King and Martyr, Cambridge. He is a poet, musician, and author of What Do Christians Believe? (Granta, 2006). www.malcolmguite.com

 

The Promise of His Glory (pp. 114-16) suggests an interesting way of using the Advent antiphons in a service, in which all seven are said or sung, each being followed by a short Bible reading and the appropriate verse of the hymn, “O come, O come, Em­manuel”, which is itself based on the antiphons.

 

The Promise of His Glory (pp. 114-16) suggests an interesting way of using the Advent antiphons in a service, in which all seven are said or sung, each being followed by a short Bible reading and the appropriate verse of the hymn, “O come, O come, Em­manuel”, which is itself based on the antiphons.

At St Edward’s, Cambridge, we have been using a version of this for some years. Our main Sunday eucharist is at 5 p.m., when it is already dark. We begin with a candle-lit procession, singing the antiphons at various stations in the church, each followed by a Bible reading. A verse of the hymn is then sung as we move on to the next station.

Often we have used just the five antiphons that have corresponding verses in the hymn-book version of “O come, O come, Emmanuel”.

The procession moves from west to east, singing the antiphons in different places: “O key of David” at the West Door, “O King of the nations” at the font, “O Wisdom” at the lectern, “O morning star” at the Advent candle, and “O Emmanuel” at the sanctuary.

Inspired by this liturgy, Malcolm Guite wrote a sonnet for each of the antiphons. Last year, we used all seven antiphons, including the sonnet linked to each, and divided the antiphons between processions on two suc­cessive Sundays in the Advent season.

The Revd Dr Fraser Watts is Chaplain of St Edward, King and Martyr, Cambridge.

In memory of Andrew Dixon

“Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Vaclav Havel

 

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

 

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the
Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

I cannot think unless I have been thought,
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.
I cannot teach except as I am taught,
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,

I cannot think unless I have been thought,
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.
I cannot teach except as I am taught,
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,
O Memory of time, reminding me,
My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.

O Adonai

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.


O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm
Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue,
Unseeable, you gave yourself away,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.

O Adonai

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.


O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm
Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue,
Unseeable, you gave yourself away,

The Adonai, the Tetragramaton
Grew by a wayside in the light of day.
O you who dared to be a tribal God,
To own a language, people and a place,
Who chose to be exploited and betrayed,
If so you might be met with face to face,
Come to us here, who would not find you there,
Who chose to know the skin and not the pith,
Who heard no more than thunder in the air,
Who marked the mere events and not the myth.
Touch the bare branches of our unbelief
And blaze again like fire in every leaf.

O Radix

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Radix

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, standing
as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer

All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,
Rose from a root invisible to all.

O Root of Jesse, standing
as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer

All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,
Rose from a root invisible to all.

We knew the virtues once of every weed,
But, severed from the roots of ritual,
We surf the surface of a wide-screen world
And find no virtue in the virtual.

We shrivel on the edges of a wood
Whose heart we once inhabited in love,
Now we have need of you, forgotten Root,
The stock and stem of every living thing

Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove,
For now is winter, now is withering
Unless we let you root us deep within,

Under the ground of being, graft us in.

O Clavis

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Clavis

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death

Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key,

That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard,
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.

I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch

Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free
Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.

O Oriens

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes
in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Oriens

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes
in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
E vidi lume in forme de riviera Paradiso XXX.61
First light and then first lines along the east
To touch and brush a sheen of light on water
As though behind the sky itself they traced
The shift and shimmer of another river

Flowing unbidden from its hidden source;
The Day-Spring, the eternal Prima Vera.
Blake saw it too. Dante and Beatrice
Are bathing in it now, away upstream. . .

So every trace of light begins a grace
In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam
Is somehow a beginning and a calling:
“Sleeper awake, the darkness was a dream

For you will see the Dayspring at your waking,
Beyond your long last line the dawn is breaking.”

O Rex Gentium

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:

O Rex Gentium

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:

Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay
O King of our desire whom we despise,
King of the nations never on the throne,

Unfound foundation, cast-off cornerstone,
Rejected joiner, making many one,
You have no form or beauty for our eyes,

A King who comes to give away his crown,
A King within our rags of flesh and bone.
We pierce the flesh that pierces our disguise,
For we ourselves are found in you alone.
Come to us now and find in us your throne,
O King within the child within the clay,
O hidden King who shapes us in the play
Of all creation. Shape us for the day

Your coming Kingdom comes into its own.

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.



O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.

Your coming Kingdom comes into its own.

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.



O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.

Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name,
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame.
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,

Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)