Monday, December 21, 2015

O Oriens, O Antiphon for Dec. 21 and Corresponding Hymn Verses from O Come Emmanuel/ Veni Emmanuel


It is especially fitting that we pray this antiphon today, on the Winter Solstice. Today is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. This title of Christ, Oriens, means daybreak, dawn, sunrise, the East, the beginning. The O antiphon for Dec. 21th begins by addressing our Savior as O Oriens, O Dayspring or Dawn rising from the East. The antiphon then describes what the Oriens symbolizes, and it ends with a petition, "come and ....”

O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ veni et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Orient! splendour of eternal light, and Sun of justice! come and enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.


Here are the corresponding modified hymn verses from "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."

Veni, veni o oriens!
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.
R: Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel nascetur pro te, Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Oriens when translated from the Latin of today's antiphon is understood as meaning Radiant Dawn, Rising Sun, or Dayspring from on High. "All beautifully express the idea of light shattering the darkness of night, of sin and death, of sickness and despair, with its brightness bringing healing and warmth to cold hearts. Jesus is indeed the true light, the radiance of his Father's splendor. The church prays this petition daily in the Benedictus, joining in the words of Zechariah: "He, the Dayspring, shall visit us in his mercy to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death"(Luke 1:78-79).[1]

This title of the Messiah is based on many additional Scripture texts.

Isaiah 9:1: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone".

Malachi 4:2: "For you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays."

John 3:16-21: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God."

2 Peter 1:19: "Keep your attention closely fixed on it, as you would on a lamp shining in a dark place, until the first streaks of dawn appe

Here is Dom Gueranger’s commentary about this O antiphon for December 21.

"0 Jesus, divine Sun! Thou art coming to snatch us from eternal night blessed for ever be Thy infinite goodness! But Thou puttest our faith to the test, before showing Thyself in all Thy brightness. Thou hidest Thy rays, until the time decreed by Thy heavenly Father comes, in which all Thy beauty will break upon the world. Thou art traversing Judea ; Thou art near Jerusalem; the journey of Mary and Joseph is nigh its term. Crowds of men pass or meet Thee on the road, each one hurrying to his native town, there to be enrolled, as the edict commands. Not one of all these suspects that Thou, O divine Orient ! art so near him. They see Thy Mother Mary, and they see nothing in her above the rest of women; or if they are impressed by the majesty and incomparable modesty of this august Queen, it is but a vague feeling of surprise at there being such dignity in one so poor as she is; and they soon forget her again. If the Mother is thus an object of indifference to them, it is not to be expected that they will give even so much as a thought to her Child, that is not yet born. And yet this Child is Thyself, O ,Sun of justice! Oh! increase our faith, but increase, too, our love. If these men loved Thee, 0 Redeemer of mankind, Thou wouldst give them the grace to feel Thy presence. Their eyes, indeed, would not yet see Thee, but their hearts, at least, would burn within them, they would long for Thy coming, and would hasten it by their prayers and, sighs. Dearest Jesus! who thus traversest the world Thou hast created, and who forcest not the homage of Thy creatures, we wish to keep near Thee during the rest of this Thy journey: we kiss the footsteps of her that carries Thee in her womb; we will not leave Thee, until we arrive together with Thee at Bethlehem, that house of bread, where, at last, our eyes will see Thee, O splendour of eternal light, our Lord and our God!'

The following is a prose translation of a section of some remarkable Advent lyrics that corresponds to today’s O Antiphon; it was written in the 8th century by Cynewulf, an Old-English vernacular poet, who I never heard of before.

Lo! Thou Splendor of the dayspring, fairest of angels sent to men upon earth, Thou Radiance of the Sun of righteousness, bright beyond the stars, Thou of Thy very self dost illumine all the tides of time! Even as Thou, God begotten of God, Son of the true Father, didst ever dwell without beginning in the glory of heaven, so Thine own handiwork in its present need imploreth Thee with confidence that Thou send us the bright sun, and come in Thy very person to enlighten those who have long been covered with murky cloud, and sitting here in darkness and eternal night, shrouded in sins, have been forced to endure the shadow of death. Now in the fulness of hope we believe in the salvation brought to men through the Word of God, who was in the beginning co-eternal with God the Father almighty, and afterward became flesh without blemish, being born of the virgin as a help for the afflicted. God appeared among us without sin; the mighty Son of God and the Son of Man dwelt together in harmony among mankind. Wherefore it is right that we should ever give thanks by our deeds unto the Lord of victory, for that He was willing to send Himself unto us.[2]

And in our own times, Fr. Z. wrote this reflection in his post on O Oriens.

We are all desperately in need of a Savior, a Redeemer who is capable of ransoming from the darkness of our sins and from the blinding and numbing wound of ignorance from which we all suffer. In their terrible Fall, our First Parents inflicted grave wounds in the souls of every person who would live after them, except of course - by an act of singular grace - the Mother of God. Our wills are damaged. Our intellect is clouded. In Christ we have the Truth, the sure foundation of what is lasting. All else, apart from Him fails and fades into dark obscurity. He brings clarity and light back to our souls when we are baptized or when we return to Him through the sacrament of penance.

At Holy Mass of the ancient Church, Christians would face "East", at least symbolically, so that they could greet the Coming of the Savior, both in the consecration of the bread and wine and in the expectation of the glorious return of the King of Glory. They turned to the rising sun who is Justice Itself, whose light will lay bare the truth of our every word, thought and deed in the Final Day.

This is the Solstice day, for the Northern Hemisphere the day which provides us with the least daylight of the year. From this point onward in the globe's majestic arc about the sun, we of the north, benefit from increasing warmth and illumination. It is as if God in His Wisdom, provided within the framework of the cosmos object lessons by which we might come to grasp something of His good plan for our salvation.

Here is a link from New Liturgical Movement that includes a link to a sound file of the chant.


See "History and Mystery: The O Antiphons in a Favorite Hymn" for my post on the relationship between the O antiphons,"Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."
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