What is an antiphon exactly? Basically it’s a short sentence sung or recited before or after a psalm or canticle. While there are antiphons used during the Catholic Mass (at the beginning of Mass or during Holy Communion, for example) for my purposes this week I’m using the aforementioned definition. Specifically I’m going to cover each of the “O Antiphons” that are used beginning with tonight’s Vespers on December 17 and continuing through December 23. Even more specifically I’m referring to the antiphons that occur before and after the Canticle of Mary, her Magnificat from Luke 1:46-55, that is a part of Evening Prayer each day.
So what is the structure of a typical Vespers/Evening Prayer? The basic outline is below.
- Invitatory or + “God, come to my assistance…”
- First Antiphon, Psalm and Doxology (aka the “Glory Be…”)
- First Antiphon, Silence and Psalm-Prayer
- Second Antiphon, Psalm and Doxology
- Second Antiphon, Silence and Psalm-Prayer
- Third Antiphon, New Testament Canticle and Doxology
- Third Antiphon
- Scripture Reading
- + Antiphon, Canticle of Mary and Doxology
- Canticle Antiphon (repeated)
- Our Father
- Concluding Prayer and + Blessing
As I explained on Friday of last week there are seven and each contains significance as they refer to a title given to the Messiah in prophecy. The first is about Wisdom:
LATIN: O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
ENGLISH: O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.
In the Old Testament there are two prophetic verses that are the source for this antiphon.
And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord, He shall not judge according to the sight of the eyes, nor reprove according to the hearing of the ears. (Isaiah 11:2-3)
This also is come forth from the Lord God of hosts, to make his counsel wonderful, and magnify justice. (Isaiah 28:29)
So what is wisdom, exactly? My short answer would be that it is something sorely lacking in practice and much needed in our world today. Of course this is nothing new as history is replete with the follies of a prideful mankind who is puffed up with “knowledge”. But knowledge does not equal wisdom. Among the best definitions of wisdom (its source, origin and how to use it) that I could point to are in Proverbs 8. It is also preached by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 1:17-31.
I’m sure I will repeat it in the coming six days but once again I reminded that we are called as Christians to imitate the life of Christ in all things. As such we are to strive and grow so that the “spirit of wisdom, and of understanding” become a key trait in our lives. Too often however man claims to possess wisdom and ventures forth with his own aims. A quick look around at my surroundings…and myself…will reveal this to be true. By simply turning on my television or opening my web browser to a media outlet and I am able to behold what the world deems as wise. It is an ugly, baseless knowledge that they promote. But it is not wisdom.
And what of the “way of prudence”? Defined as “the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason” it is another trait we fail to manifest within ourselves. One cannot legislate wisdom any more than morality. The human heart is its own master, and humanity has proven itself a poor shepherd. To emphasize the point the world
- Hisses at the thought of reducing its profanity, obscenities, or graphic violence, but demands that a voice invoking the name of God be silenced.
- Scoffs at the need for mothers and fathers to make it their priority to train their children to be strong in spirit and soul and responsible for right and wrong and exalts instead the virtue of having material “things”, preferring to provide expensive toys, games, and media that substitute for parenting.
- Insists on a society where the red pen that used to grade test papers is eradicated, everyone gets a trophy, no one loses and then acts surprised that so many kids lack self-esteem.
- Marginalizes with contempt the natural family of a father and mother creating and responsibly raising the next generation and then acts bewildered when kids feel no real connection to their families.
- Dismisses the notion of natural law or that there are moral absolutes and seems amazed when some kids make it their own morality to commit the most base and heinous crimes.
- Refuses to teach them there is a God who sets a simple set of rules to live our lives by and to whom we are ultimately responsible. Instead it teaches that God was not involved in our origins, that our very lives are biological “accidents” and that they are in fact are disposable should they be inconvenient to us, whether at the beginning of life, the end, or any point in between.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. … but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27-30)
The world crucified Christ and is still persecuting Christians over 2000 years later because Christians who imitate Christ are an insult to the world’s pride. Am I therefore surprised when the world reacts with anger and prejudice when I swim against its tide?
The first O Antiphon is referred to in the following verse of O Come O Come Emmanuel:
Veni, O Sapientia, quae hic disponis omnia,
Veni, viam prudentiae ut doceas et gloriae.
O Come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Image source of Christ the Wisdom of God: The Ikon Studio