Monday, December 16, 2013

The Great "O" Antiphons

Tonight we enter that beautiful time of year, Sapientia-tide, once again.  December 16 has been designated "O Sapientia" in the Church Calendar of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer for 350 years now;  "O Sapientia" ("O Wisdom") is the Antiphon Upon Magnificat at Vespers for the 16th - and the first of 8 "Great 'O' Antiphons" for this octave before Christmas.

The texts for the Great "O"s are taken in great part from the Prophets and from the Wisdom literature, and become mystical  proclamations, made daily during those eight days, of the imminent coming of Christ "in great humility."  The antiphons themselves are over a thousand years old.

This year again I'm going to link to previous years' posts about them, all in this one post; you'll find chant scores and audio and/or video files - and also some discussion of each antiphon - at each of the links.  These antiphons are beautiful; I still haven't found audio versions in English of them all, and that's too bad, because the English translations are quite beautiful.   They make the 8 days before Christmas something truly special.  I take a few minutes out of each day in the late afternoon or evening and sing each one as it occurs in the cycle.  (If you'd like to pray the whole office of Vespers, you can do it at St. Bede's Breviary; choose "Amplified Prayer Book" under "Style" to get the "O's".)

A blessed Sapientia-tide to all.

You can see the antiphons listed here, at Breviary Offices, from Lauds to Compline Inclusive (Society of St. Margaret, Boston, 1885).    I'll link-in via iFrame at the bottom of the post too.

Here is is a good longish article about these antiphons, and some other related ones - and this article, written in around 1914 by A.C.A. Hall, the Episcopal Bishop of Vermont, contains quite a bit more about the Great "O"s. 

Here are the Latin and modern English (US BCP 1979) versions of the beautiful Magnificat, so that you can sing along if you wish.

Magnificat: anima mea Dominum.
Et exultavit spiritus meus: in Deo salutari meo.
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae:
ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est:
et sanctum nomen eius.
Et misericordia eius, a progenie et progenies:
timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam in brachio suo:
dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede:
et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis:
et divites dimisit inanes.
Suscepit Israel puerum suum:
recordatus misericordiae suae.
Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros:
Abraham, et semini eius in saecula.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Here, HT Episcopal Cafe, is  a 1997 NPR "All Things Considered" segment on the O Antiphons.  Here's the blurb from that page (you'll need Real Player to listen to the clip; click the "Real Media" link at top):
Linda talks with Fr. Columba Kelly, O.S.B. — a musicologist and a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey — about the "O Antiphons" which begin tonight at Vespers and continue through December 23rd. Each Antiphon gives an ancient title for the Messiah — and calls on the Messiah to come and help his people. These antiphons were later popularized in the Advent carol "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." The music in this segment is perfomed by members of the Washington Men's Camerata. (8:29)

Here is that peek-in to the SSM Breviary and its listing of these antiphons:

And here's Zoltán Kodály's gorgeous "Veni, veni, Emmanuel," sung here by L'Accorche-Choeur, Ensemble vocal Fribourg:
Veni, Veni Emmanuel is a synthesis of the great "O Antiphons" that are used for Vespers during the octave before Christmas (Dec. 17-23). These antiphons are of ancient origin and date back to at least the ninth century.

This is an "O Antiphon" page from the Poissy Antiphonal; it's got "O Sapientia," "O Adonai," and "O Radix Jess" - the first three "O"s:

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