From the evening of December 16 (or December 17), Advent worship takes a sharp turn to focus on the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ, and the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. One particular and beautiful expression of our eagerness for Christ’s coming is found in the antiphons (short 'anthems') which traditionally precede the recitation of the Magnificat (Mary's Song, Luke 1:46-55) during Evening Prayer throughout this final week of Advent.
The antiphons which precede the Magnificat from the 16th to the 23rd of December are called the “O Antiphons.” They call upon God to “Come” by focusing on different aspects of God’s saving action throughout history and God’s power to save by sending the Messiah. By praying them, we unite our voices and hearts in the desire for the Lord to come, so that we may be renewed in the hope given to us through the birth of Jesus Christ: the Lord who has come into the world. The O Antiphons are familiar because they are the basis of the chant, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
HERE you can read more about the O Antiphons, as well as Malcolm Guite's wonderful poetic reflections upon each.
This evening, the Church begins the O Antiphons by praying 'O Sapientia' (O Wisdom):
"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"
Icon: Holy Mary, the Seat of Wisdom
The early church nearly unanimously saw in 'Lady Wisdom' in Proberbs 8 a figuration of Christ, the true wisdom from on high. In Proverbs 8 'Wisdom' is said to be with God before creation and to participate in creating the world with the Father. Naturally, the church asked, "Who can this Eternal Wisdom be but Christ?"
This evening, I encourage you to take a moment to say pray 'O Sapientia' followed by the Magnificat of Mary and to contemplate Christ as the True Wisdom of the world. Here are the words of the O Sapientia together with the Magnificat:
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
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
For he has regarded
the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from now on,
all generations will call me blessed;
For he that is mighty has magnified me,
and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him,
throughout all generations.
He has shown the strength of his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the humble and meek.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
He, remembering his mercy, has helped his servant Israel,
as he promised to our fathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.
Finally, to add a brief meditation upon our theme, you may want to read and consider Malcom Guite's poem for this day, "O Sapientia":
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.
Today has been less of a reflection and more of an encouragement for you to discover and reflect upon the O Antiphons for yourself over this next week. You may want to use Malcolm Guite's meditations as an introduction.
May you be richly blessed over this final week of Advent.