Friday, December 18, 2015

O! The Antiphons of Advent

Although I graduated from seminary, I am not a liturgy geek. I have friends (lots of them) who are...who can tell you the historical background behind all the various prayers, colors, and traditions in the church. I love beautiful liturgy and will forever be thankful that the prayer book grabbed me so many years ago and helped direct me to the Anglican tradition I now call home. But as a lay person, not a priest or deacon, I am usually perfectly content to participate in the liturgy without understanding all the exact whys and wherefores of why we do what we do.

Since I'm not a liturgy geek, but I do love history and music, occasionally I stumble upon something that I feel like I should have known about before but didn't. This year it is the "O Antiphons" of Advent.

I learned about the O Antiphons this year when I went looking for background on "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." It's the sweet girl's favorite Advent hymn, and I had promised we could delve into its meaning a little bit during our evening Advent prayers around the wreath. (And yes, liturgical geek friends, our candle colors are wrong this year! We were late buying candles and the best we could do this year was dark green with one pink.)

I knew that the names for Jesus in O Come were all Scriptural, so I decided we would dive into those biblical allusions. What I didn't realize was that the verses of the hymn correspond to ancient antiphonal prayers, each one beginning with an O!

I love those Os! Isn't it a wonderful exclamation! As though you are drawing your breath in, feeling total amazement and awe. Addressing a king. Stunned by the beauty of the gospel.

An antiphon, by the way, is simply a prayer that is read or sung antiphonally -- with voices volleying the words back and forth. The seven Antiphons of Advent are typically prayed in the week leading up to Christmas Eve and Christmas day. They are wonderful prayers that help us to prepare our hearts to make room for the celebration of the Nativity.

We've reflected together on "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," and now we are praying our way through the O Antiphons. Last night it was a prayer to "Wisdom of the Most High," and tonight we address God as "Ruler of the House of the Israel." O, I love that we never run out of names for God!

Here's a lovely site with all the Antiphons, from whence I pulled the beautiful image for this post. It's an original artwork by Jeanne Kun, entitled "The Root of Jesse."

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