Sunday, 17 December 2006

Gaudete and O Sapientia

The original purpose of Gaudete Sunday has been rather lost over the centuries – especially with the commercialisation of Christmas in our own times. Advent is supposed to be a penitential season as we prepare and purify ourselves for the great celebration of Christmas. At one stage, Advent lasted forty days, though it was subsequently shortened to four Sundays. Gaudete Sunday parallels Laetare Sunday in Lent – a sort of mid-Season breather, when we swap the sorrowful purple vestments for more cheerful rose-coloured ones and wait expectantly, with increasing urgency, for the coming of the Lord.

Today, then, is half time in the Advent Season. The last fortnight our readings have focussed on the Second Coming; now we consider the First Coming and reflect on the familiar Christmas Story. The closeness of Christmas is why the prophet Zephaniah tells us to ‘shout for joy’ and ‘exult with all your heart’ and why St Paul writes ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord’.

This year Gaudete Sunday coincides with 17 December and the start of the Great 'O' Antiphons, chanted or recited before and after the Magnificat at Vespers. These are a beautiful expression of the Church's expectancy as we approach Christmas and use the great Messianic titles of Sacred Scripture.

Less well-known is the fact that if you take the first letter of each of these Messianic titles in reverse order - Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia - they spell ero cras (Tomorrow I will come) - a powerful message for 23 December, the last day of the antiphons.

Most of us will have heard of the 'O' antiphons, but very few of us will have heard them sung, unless we belong to a religious community or have an enlightened (and musical) pastor. I, for one, am more familiar with Charpentier's Antiennes 'O' de l'Avent (H.36-43), which I have on CD, than with the chant, which I've never heard 'live'.

There are some online resources to help priests and laity alike learn these venerable antiphons and add them to their repertoire. Scott Turkington sings O Sapientia as found in the Liber Usualis, complete with Magnificat (via NLM). The excellent English Dominican blog, Godzdogz, has usefully produced videos of the Dominican 'O' antiphons, complete with the musical score.

O Wisdom, you come forth from 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.

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Blogger Students@EnglishOP said...

Please note Father, that the O antiphons we have performed are taken from the Dominican Antiphonal and have slight differences from the Roman use.

8:35 am  

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