Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Peacock Memories: Flannery O'Connor and the King of the Birds

Recently, I read a Deep Down Things blog post titled Murder Most Fowl, which is a punny title for a reflection about the mysterious deaths of a peahen called Mary Grace and peacock called Manley Pointer, which were being kept for tourists to view on Flannery O'Connor's family farm in Georgia. In case you don't already know, Mary Grace and Manley Pointer are the names of two characters from O'Connor's fiction.  That blog post reminded me of a few more O'Connor-peacock-related stories.

O'Connor sent a photo of herself standing next to a self-portrait she'd painted with one of her peacocks to a friend in a letter dated Oct 20, 1955. She wrote, “I am the one on the left; the one on the right is the Muse."

I started reading Flannery O'Connor when I was a 15 year old high school sophomore.  After Miss Marjorie E. Frye, my English teacher in Leicester, Mass., told me that I could write the Great American Novel, I set my mind on being a "famous writer." Miss Frye gave me many books to read that helped me learn the craft by seeing it practiced well, and among those books were two of O'Connor's novels and a collection of her short stories.

Just before I turned 16 I first read the really funny personal essay that eventually came to identify O'Connor as a writer about peacocks in just about everybody's mind. I saw the story when it was first  published as "Living with  a Peacock" in Holiday magazine in September of 1961.
The essay was also later published in the collection of O'Connor's non-fiction writings that was titled Mystery and Manners, under the title “King of Birds."

Come to think of it, "Living with a Peacock" was actually the only piece of creative writing by Flannery O'Connor that I ever really enjoyed. She was a brilliant memoirist. "Living with a Peacock" was like nothing else I've read before or since.

I didn't remotely understand her fiction until much later--after I read her own descriptions of what she was trying to do in Mystery and Manners, and even after I understood her intentions I didn't like her characters or the things they did.  I admired her greatly, and I still do, even though I don't believe that she succeeded in her goal of creating in her readers' minds the grasp of spiritual realities that she sought to induce by portraying the grotesque people and violent happenings that filled her stories. For other reasons that transcended their own author's intentions, her short stories and novels endure as part of the canon of great American fiction.

Eventually, I sought out and read everything else O'Connor ever wrote while I was working on an M.A. with writing emphasis in Minneapolis, after many unexpected relocations in my life, about fifteen years after I first was exposed to O'Connor's writing.

Flannery O'Connor was one of the very rare women writers whose talent was undisputed by the literary establishment.  I avidly read her work and I read about her partly because I wanted to find out how she had pulled it off. Another one of the reasons I returned to reading O'Connor was that I had returned to being a Catholic, so I had yet another thing in common with her. I hoped her example could show me (some way, somehow) how to succeed not only as a woman writer but as a woman writer who is a serious Catholic.

But, as I've already hinted, when I read  "Living with a Peacock" in a Holiday magazine that my mother had lying around the house when I was 15, I thought it was a hoot.

What Got Her Started

In "Living with a Peacock," I learned that in 1932 Mary Flannery O'Connor got her first taste of fame at the age of five after she taught a Bantam hen to walk backwards on her family's farm in Georgia. The news of that backwards-walking-hen spread far and wide by word of mouth until somehow a British Pathé news crew found out. They came all the way to Georgia and filmed Mary Flannery and the hen, and they put the film into a newsreel that was shown round the world.

As O'Connor tells the story, the experience gave her a taste for collecting fowl and a yearning for another chance to capture the world's attention again. If she could only find a three legged chicken or some other grotesquery and get herself some more of that limelight ... 

And Here's the Very Newsreel

But it wasn't until many years later that I was gratified to actually get to see the PATHÉ! news clip  that she mentioned in her opening paragraphs of the Holiday article. You can view it here.



The Anguish of French Crows, Not!

Rereading 'Living with a Peacock" reminds me of one more story. When I went to France in 1997, for the first week I stayed in an ancient stone farmhouse turned guesthouse that was called Le Mas des Rives outside a village called Sauteyrargues, in Languedoc-Roussillon forty miles north of Montpelier.  While I was unpacking in my upstairs room, I heard an odd type of cawing coming through the windows from the shrubbery around the farmyard. It could be a crow, I thought, maybe, but if so, French crows must have far more angst than their American cousins.

When the group I was with was eating together later outside at a picnic table, I saw that what I had first thought was an anguished crow's croak was actually coming from the throat of a peacock dragging its long feathered tail across the lawn.

Finally, I'd gotten to share one part of Flannery's life experience. I had seen and heard a peacock in a farmyard, even though it was a guest house in Languedoc-Roussillon and not a working farm in Georgia.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Who Descended from the Stars? The Baby God, That's Who!

StStephenFeastDecember26Today, December 26, is the second day of Christmas, Boxing Day, and the feast of St. Stephen the first martyr. Note the rock connecting with his skull. Today the Pope told us to forgive like Stephen. Good advice. In the crowd, holding the stoners' coats, was Saul, the persecutor of Christians, who became St. Paul. Perhaps Saul's conversion was aided by the grace of Stephen's forgiveness. On another note, t'was on the feast of Stephen when good King Wenceslas went out! And the snow was crisp and even. And everyone forgets the rest of the carol. At least I do.

Today I want to tell you about one carol I know many verses from, in Italian even, "Tu scendi dalle stelle." I learned to sing and to love this piece of music that some say is that only Italian Christmas carol, after I took a semester of Italian in preparation for my trip to Italy 16 years ago. After I came back from Italy, I joined the Italian choir at my local church and sang this carol at Christmas with them for a few years.

In our culture, we don't usually refer to Christ this way, but the Italians call Him affectionately "O Bambino, mio divino," "O my divine Baby ."

That reminds me that my grand-nephew Cole Miller's mother told me that when he was very little, Cole called Jesus, the Baby God. Though no one else in his family was a believer, somehow he knew.

Tu scendi dalle stelle o Re del cielo,
    You came down from the stars, O King of Heaven,

e vieni in una grotta al freddo e al gelo, (bis)
     And you came into a cave, in the cold and in the frost, (2x)

O Bambino mio divino, io ti vedo qui a tremar. O Dio beato!
  O my divine Baby, I see you who shiver. O blessed God

Ah! Quanto ti costò l'avermi amato. (bis) 
   Ah! How much it costs you, loving me. (2x)

A te che sei del mondo il Creatore, mancano i panni e il fuoco,
    To you the Creator of the world, Lacking clothes and fire,

O mio Signore. (bis)
     O my Lord. (2x)

Caro eletto pargoletto, quanta questa povertà più mi innamora,

giacchè ti fece amor povero ancora. (bis)

     Dear chosen one, little infant, how much this poverty makes me love you more,
     Since love made you poor now. (2x)

Tu lasci del tuo Padre il divin seno,
   You leave the divine breast of your Father,

per venire a tremar su questo fieno;
     To come to shiver on this hay.

Caro eletto del mio petto, dove amor ti trasportò!
O Gesù mio, perchè tanto patir, per amor mio...

  Dear chosen one of my heart, where love carried you!
     O my Jesus, why suffer so much, for love of me.

Ma se fu tuo volere il tuo patire
     But if it was your will to suffer

perché vuoi pianger poi, perché vagire?
     Because you wanted to weep, then why wail?

Sposo mio, amato Dio,
     My husband, beloved God,

mio Gesù, t’intendo, sì: Ah, mio Signore!
     My Jesus, I understand you, yes: Ah, my Lord!

Tu piangi non per duol, ma per amore.
     You weep not for grief, but for love.


This is a charming version of the carol, which is sung by children. They sing about half the verses.  Lots of other versions are floating around by others, but they only have the first two or three verses.

I hope this touches your heart the way it touches mine.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

O Come Emmanuel, O Antiphon for Dec. 23

On Dec. 23, the last of the Great O antiphons of Advent begins by addressing our Savior with the Messianic name, Emmanuel, which means God with us. The antiphon then echoes His title as king (from O Rex Gentium), adds the title of lawgiver, repeats that He is the hoped for One (longed for) and Savior of the nations. It ends with a petition, "come and save us.”
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster. 
O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, longing of the nations and Savior thereof: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Related Hymn Verses

Here are the corresponding modified hymn verses from "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." The English verse uses "King of the nations."
Veni, veni, Emmanuel,
Captivum solvet Israel
Qui gemit in exsilio
Privatus Dei Fillio

O come, o come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appears.

Scriptural Origins

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman[ shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman′u-el.

Matthew 1:20b-23:
"[T]hat which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and his name shall be called Emman′u-el” (which means, God with us).

Dom Gueranger's Commentary about O Emmanuel:

O Emmanuel ! King of peace! Thou enterest today the city of Thy predilection, the city in which Thou hast placed Thy temple—Jerusalem. A few years hence the same city will give Thee Thy cross and Thy sepulchre: nay, the day will come on which Thou wilt set up Thy judgement-seat within sight of her walls. But to-day Thou enterest the city of David and Solomon unnoticed and unknown. It lies on Thy road to Bethlehem. Thy blessed Mother and Joseph her spouse would not lose the opportunity of visiting the temple, there to offer to the Lord. their prayers and adoration. They enter; and then, for the first time, is accomplished the prophecy of Aggeus, that great shall be the glory of this last house more than of the first ; 1 for this second temple has now standing within it an ark of the Covenant more precious than was that which Moses built; and within this ark, which is Mary, is contained the God whose presence makes her the holiest of sanctuaries. The Lawgiver Himself is in this blessed ark, and not merely, as in that of old, the tablet of stone on which the Law was graven. The visit paid, our living ark descends the steps of the temple, and sets out once more for Bethlehem, where other prophecies are to be fulfilled. We adore Thee, O Emmanuel ! in this Thy journey, and we reverence the fidelity wherewith Thou fulfillest all that the prophets have written of Thee; for Thou wouldst give to Thy people the certainty of Thy being the Messias, by showing them that all the marks, whereby He was to be known, are to be found in Thee. And now, the hour is near; all is ready for Thy birth; come then, and save us; come, that Thou mayst not only be called our Emmanuel, but our Jesus, that is, He that saves us.

More

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."

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

O Rex Gentium, O Antiphon for Dec. 22

Christ in Majesty, Fra Angelico
The O antiphon for Dec. 22nd begins by addressing our Savior with the Messianic name, O Rex Gentium. The antiphon then describes what this title symbolizes, and it ends with a petition, "come and ....”
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem quem de limo formasti..

O King of the gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.

The word Gentium comes from gens, which means tribe, clan; nation, people; Gentiles. The Jews would have understood the word as referring to the Gentiles.

Calling on Christ as Rex Gentium et desideratus earum (King and desired one of all the nations) means that even those who have never heard of true God or His promised Messiah, and even those who do not know they need salvation, long for Him.

Related Hymn Verses

Here are the corresponding modified hymn verses from "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." The English verse uses "King of the nations."

Veni, veni, Rex gentium, Veni Redemptor omnium: Ut salvas tuos famulos Peccati sibi conscios.


Come, O come, King of the nations, come, Redeemer of all: that Thou mayst save Thy family from the guilt of their sins.

Scriptural Origins

King of the Nations
Jeremiah 10:7:7 Who would not fear thee, O King of the nations? For this is thy due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like thee.Desired of all nations
Haggai 2:4-8:
"My Spirit abides among you; fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations — and the desired of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts."

Cornerstone
Psalm 118:22: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner."

Isaiah 28:16a: "Behold, I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation."

Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, and Luke 20:17: "Jesus said to them, 'Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?"

Acts 4:8-12:
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, 10 be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

I Peter 2:7-8:
To you therefore who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe,
“The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner,”
and “A stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall”; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Cornerstone Who Joins the Gentiles with Israel
Ephesians 2:14-16, 19-22:
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.  19 So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Dom Gueranger's Commentary about Rex Gentium

O King of nations! Thou art approaching still nigher to Bethlehem, where Thou art to be born. The journey is almost over, and Thy august Mother, consoled and strengthened by the dear weight she bears, holds an unceasing converse with Thee on the way. She adores Thy divine Majesty; she gives thanks to Thy mercy; she rejoices that she has been chosen for the sublime ministry of being Mother to God. She longs for that happy moment when her eyes shall look upon Thee, and yet she fears it. For, how will she be able to render Thee those services which are due to Thy infinite greatness, she that thinks herself the last of creatures ? How will she dare to raise Thee up in her arms, and press Thee to her heart, and feed Thee at her breasts? When she reflects that the hour is now near at hand, in which, being born of her, Thou wilt require all her care and tenderness, her heart sinks within her; for, what human heart could bear the intense vehemence of these two affections—the love of such a Mother for her Babe, and the love of such a creature for her God? But Thou supportest her, O Thou the Desired of nations! for Thou, too, longest for that happy birth, which is to give to the earth its Saviour, and to men that corner-stone, which will unite them all into one family. Dearest King! be Thou blessed for all these wonders of Thy power and goodness ! Come speedily, we beseech Thee, come and save us, for we are dear to Thee, as creatures that have been formed by Thy divine hands. Yea, come, for Thy creation has grown degenerate; it is lost; death has taken possession of it: take Thou it again into Thy almighty hands, and give it a new creation; save it; for Thou hast not ceased to take pleasure in and love Thine own work.

From Julian of Norwich

O Rex Gentium
O King of our desire whom we despise,
King of the nations never on the throne,
Unfound foundation, cast-off cornerstone,
Rejected joiner, making many one,
You have no form or beauty for our eyes,
A King who comes to give away his crown,
A King within our rags of flesh and bone.
We pierce the flesh that pierces our disguise,
For we ourselves are found in you alone.
Come to us now and find in us your throne,
O King within the child within the clay,
O hidden King who shapes us in the play
Of all creation. Shape us for the day
Your coming Kingdom comes into its own.

More

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."




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."

Saturday, December 19, 2015

O Clavis David, O Antiphon for Dec. 20 and Corresponding Hymn Verses from O Come Emmanuel/ Veni Emmanuel


The O antiphon for Dec. 20th begins by addressing our Savior as O Clavis David, O Key of David. The antiphon then describes what the Key of David symbolizes, and it ends with a petition, "come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, that sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; who openest and no man shutteth; shuttest and no man openeth: come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, that sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

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

Veni clavis Davidica! Regna reclude coelica, Fac iter Tutum superum, Et claude vias Inferum. R: Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel, nascetur pro te Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come And open wide our heav'nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. R: Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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

Isaiah 9:6-7: "His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, Upon David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains By judgment and justice, both now and forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!"

Isaiah 22:22: "I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder. When he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open."

Christ is from the line of David and is the heir of David as King of Israel, the heavenly kingdom, in an unforeseen way. The ruler wore the keys, the symbol of his power and authority, on his shoulder. 
  
Revelation 3:7: "To the presiding spirit of the church in Philadelphia write this: 'The holy One, the true, who wields David's key, who opens and no one can close, who closes and  no one can open.'"

Christ, the holy one and true, is the heir of David. All power and authority was given to him after the resurrection. He gave the power to "bind and to loose" our sins to the Apostles.

Matthew 16:18-19: "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 
 
Jesus is the One who unlocks the fetters of sin that  keep us tightly chained and who frees us from our captivity.  

Psalm 107: 10, 14:  "they dwelt in darkness and gloom, bondsmen in want and in chains,...and he led them forth from darkness and gloom and broke their bonds asunder."

Here is Dom Gueranger’s commentary about this O antiphon for December 20.

"O Jesus, Son of David! heir to his throne and his power! Thou art now passing over, in Thy way to Bethlehem, the land that once was the kingdom of Thy ancestor, but now is tributary to the Gentiles. Scarce an inch of this ground which has not witnessed the miracles of the justice and mercy of Jehovah, Thy Father, to the people of the old Covenant, which is so soon to end. Before long, when Thou hast come from beneath the virginal cloud which now hides Thee, Thou wilt pass along this same road doing good, 1 healing all manner of sickness and every infirmity, and yet having not where to lay Thy head.  Now, at least, Thy Mother’s womb affords Thee the sweetest rest, and Thou receivest from her the profoundest adoration and the tenderest love. But, dear Jesus, it is Thine own blessed will that Thou leave this loved abode. Thou hast, O eternal Light, to shine in the midst of this world’s darkness, this prison where the captive, whom Thou hast come to deliver, sits in the shadow of death. Open his prison-gates by Thy all-powerful key. And who is this captive, but the human race, the slave of error and vice? Who is this captive, but the heart of man, which is thrall to the very passions it blushes to obey? Oh! come and set at liberty the world Thou hast enriched by Thy grace, and the creatures whom Thou hast made to be Thine own brethren.'

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."

O Radix Jesse, O Antiphon for Dec. 19 and Corresponding Hymn Verses from O Come Emmanuel/ Veni Emmanuel

The O antiphon for Dec. 19th begins by addressing our Savior, who is about to be born as a man, as O Radix Jesse, O Root of Jesse. The antiphon then describes what the name symbolizes, and it ends with a petition, “come to deliver, delay thou not.”

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, which standest as a sign to the peoples, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, whom the gentiles shall beseech, come to deliver, delay thou not!

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

Veni, O Jesse Virgula: Ex hostis tuos ungula, de specutuos tartari Educ, et antro barathri. R: Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel, nascetur pro te Israel!

Come, O Rod of Jesse: from the clutches of the enemy, from the snares of hell, and from the depths of the netherworld lead forth thine own. R: Rejoice! Rejoice! O Israel, to thee shall come Emmanuel!”

Jesse was the father of David and a descendant of Judah, Jacob, Isaac and Abraham. God chose Jesse (and his youngest son, the shepherd David) as recorded in this Scripture: "And the Lord said unto Samuel ... Fill thine horn with oil and go; I will send thee to Jesse, the Bethlehemite, for I have provided me a king among his sons" 1 Samuel 16:1. Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, is also called the city of David.

Isaiah, the prophet, wrote this about 300 years later, "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots; And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord" Isaiah 11:1-2.

This prophecy refers to the coming Messiah as the "rod out of the stem of Jesse" and as a "branch" that will grow out of Jesse's roots. By the use of the Hebrew word, netzer, for branch, the prophecy even went so far as to specify the place where Messiah would live, in a play on words. The town Natzeret [Nazareth] is the word netzer plus the feminine ending. "And He came and dwelt in a city called Natzeret (Nazareth), that it might be fulfilled what was spoken by the prophets" Matthew 2:23.

The hymn refers to Jesus as the rod of Jesse unlike the O antiphon, which refers to Jesus as the "root of Jesse." Radix Jesse is the term used for the Messiah in another prophecy from Isaiah, "In that day there shall be a root of Jesse who shall stand for an ensign [a sign] to the peoples" Isaiah 11:10.

Also unlike the hymn, the O antiphon refers to the part of the prophecy that foretold that the Messiah would be a standard bearer who will attract the Gentiles and that the Messiah would deliver His people, "And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth." Isaiah 11:12.

Here is Dom Gueranger’s commentary about this O antiphon for December 19.

"At length, O Son of Jesse! thou art approaching the city of thy ancestors. The Ark of the Lord has risen, and journeys, with the God that is in her, to the place of her rest. 'How beautiful are thy steps, O thou daughter of the Prince,' [Cant. vii. 1.] now that thou art bringing to the cities of Juda their salvation! The Angels escort thee, thy faithful Joseph lavishes his love upon thee, heaven delights in thee, and our earth thrills with joy to bear thus upon itself its Creator and its Queen. Go forward, O Mother of God and Mother of Men! Speed thee, thou propitiatory that holdest within thee the divine Manna which gives us life! Our hearts are with thee, and count thy steps. Like thy royal ancestor David, 'we will enter not into the dwelling of our house, nor go up into the bed whereon we lie, nor give sleep to our eyes, nor rest to our temples, until we have found a place in our hearts for the Lord whom thou bearest, a tabernacle for this God of Jacob.” [Ps. cxxxi. 3-5.] Come, then, O Root of Jesse! thus hid in this Ark of purity; thou wilt soon appear before thy people as the standard round which all that would conquer must rally. Then, their enemies, the Kings of the world, will be silenced, and the nations will offer thee their prayers. Hasten thy coming, dear Jesus! come and conquer all our enemies, and deliver us.'

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."

Friday, December 18, 2015

O Adonai: O Antiphon for Dec. 18 and Corresponding Hymn Verses from O Come Emmanuel/ Veni Emmanuel

The O antiphon for Dec. 18 begins by addressing our Savior, who is about to be born as a man, as O Adonai.

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared unto Moses in the burning bush, and gave him the Law on Sinai, come to redeem us with arm outstretched!

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

Veni, veni, Adonai, Qui populo in Sion, Legem dedisti vertice. In majestate gloriae. R: Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel, nascetur pro te Israel!

Come, O come, O Adonai [Lord], Who to thy people on Sinai’s summit didst give the law in glorious majesty. R. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmauel has come to thee, O Israel.

Here is Dom Gueranger’s commentary about this O antiphon for December 18.
O Sovereign Lord! O Adonaï! come and redeem us, not by thy power, but by thy humility. Heretofore, thou didst show thyself to Moses thy servant in the midst of a mysterious flame; thou didst give thy law to thy people amidst thunder and lightning; now, on the contrary, thou comest not to terrify, but to save us. Thy chaste Mother having heard the Emperor's edict, which obliges her and Joseph her Spouse to repair to Bethlehem, she prepares everything needed for thy divine Birth. She prepares for thee, O Sun of Justice! the humble swathing-bands, wherewith to cover thy nakedness, and protect thee, the Creator of the world, from the cold of that mid-night hour of thy Nativity! Thus it is that thou willest to deliver us from the slavery of our pride, and show man that thy divine arm is never stronger than when he thinks it powerless and still. Everything is prepared, then, dear Jesus! thy swathing-bands are ready for thy infant limbs! Come to Bethlehem, and redeem us from the hands of our enemies.

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."

Thursday, December 17, 2015

O Antiphon for December 17: O Sapientia, O WIsdom

The O antiphon for Dec. 17th begins by addressing our Savior who is about to become Man as O Sapientia, O Wisdom, it then describes what God’s wisdom does, and it ends with a petition, “come to teach us the way of prudence.”

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, that proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end mightily, and disposing all things sweetly! come and teach us the way of prudence.

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

Veni, O Sapientia, quae hic disponis omnia, veni, viam prudentiae ut doceas et gloriae. R: Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel, nascetur pro te Israel!

O Come Thou Wisdom from on high, that orderest all things mightily. to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in your ways to go. R: Rejoice! Rejoice! O Israel, to thee shall come Emmanuel!”

Here is Dom Gueranger’s commentary about this first O antiphon.

O uncreated Wisdom, who art so soon to make Thyself visible to Thy creatures, truly Thou disposest all things. It is by Thy permission that the emperor Augustus issues a decree ordering the enrolment of the whole world. Each citizen of the vast empire is to have his name enrolled in the city of his birth. This prince has no other object in this order, which sets the world in motion, but his own ambition. Men go to and fro by millions, and an unbroken procession traverses the immense Roman world; men think they are doing the bidding of man, and it is God whom they are obeying. This world-wide agitation has really but one object; it is, to bring to Bethlehem a man and woman who live at Nazareth in Galilee, in order that this woman, who is unknown to the world but dear to heaven, and who is at the close of the ninth month since she conceived her Child, may give birth to this Child in Bethlehem; for the Prophet has said of Him: ‘His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity. And thou, O Bethlehem! art not the least among the thousand cities of Juda, for out of thee He shall come.’ O divine Wisdom! how strong art Thou in thus reaching Thine ends by means which are infallible, though hidden; and yet, how sweet, offering no constraint to man’s free-will; and withal, how fatherly, in providing for our necessities! Thou choosest Bethlehem for Thy birth-place, because Bethlehem signifies the house of bread. In this, Thou teachest us that Thou art our Bread, the nourishment and support of our life. With God as our food, we cannot die. O Wisdom of the Father, living Bread that hast descended from heaven, come speedily into us, that thus we may approach to Thee and be enlightened by Thy light, and by that prudence which leads to 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."

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

History and Mystery: The O Antiphons in a Favorite Hymn

I first became intrigued by the relationship between “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” the season of Advent, and the O antiphons a few years ago when I chanced to find a Youtube show in which Fr. William George Rutler presented some of this hymn’s rich history. Last year during Advent, I posted ten quotes from this video in “Top Ten Thoughts about Advent from Fr. Rutler.” As Fr. Rutler said in thought #2 in my post, “The Church has wonderful hymns for Advent, and if we don’t keep Advent, we are going to miss them. We know one very well, and because we’ve lost Advent, we tend to think of it as a Christmas hymn: ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel.’ ’”

Because many additional fascinating details are associated with the origins and history of this hymn, this year I want to dig deeper, and look at where the hymn came from.

Fr. Rutler continued, “The Latin version of ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel,’ which came first, is called ‘Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.’” A large part of what makes this hymn especially interesting to me is the origin of its verses. Each verse in the hymn is a modified version of one of the seven O antiphons. As Fr. Rutler explained, an antiphon is a short line that precedes a liturgical hymn. The particular collection of antiphons that made their way into the hymn is called the O antiphons for the somewhat prosaic reason that they each begin with an O.



Each night between Dec. 17 and 23, wherever Latin Vespers or the vernacular Evening Prayer are prayed, one of these O antiphons is sung or recited before and after the Magnificat. In the post-Vatican II form of the Mass, each of the O antiphons is also included as the Gospel Acclamation during the Mass of the day. The O antiphons powerfully express the Church’s longing and awe at this time of heightened anticipation, while Advent is coming to a close, and the feast of Christmas approaches.

The Magnificat, of course, is the canticle of Our Lady, which she sang under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost during her visit with her cousin Elizabeth soon after the annunciation. Eminent liturgist Dom Prosper Gueranger wrote that these antiphons are sung at the Magnificat, “to show us that the Saviour whom we expect is to come to us by Mary.”
The Church enters today on the seven days which precede the Vigil of Christmas, and which are known in the liturgy under the name of the Greater Ferias. The ordinary of the Advent Office becomes more solemn; the antiphons of the psalms, both for Lauds and the Hours of the day, are proper, and allude expressly to the great coming. Every day, at Vespers, is sung a solemn antiphon, consisting of a fervent prayer to the Messias, whom it addresses by one of the titles given Him in the sacred Scriptures. ... The canonical Hour of Vespers has been selected as the most appropriate time for this solemn supplication to our Saviour, because, as the Church sings in one of her hymns, it was in the evening of the world (vergente mundi vespere) that the Messias came amongst us.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of Advent as making present the expectation of the Messiah: as we prepare to celebrate His first coming, we also prepare for His second coming.
524 When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming."
Messianic Titles

Each of the seven O antiphons starts with one of the names of a Scriptural type of the Messiah. He is the Wisdom of God, the Ruler of the House of Israel, the Root of Jesse, the Key of David, the Dawn, the King of the Nations, and God with us.

And each O antiphon ends by calling out to the Savior to come and to show us the power that is associated with the particular Messianic name that the antiphon uses.

Incidentally, but interestingly, the hymn verses are much shorter than the corresponding antiphons, and the verses are not in the same order as the sequence in which the O antiphons are sung. For one example, the last O antiphon on Dec. 23 is addressed to Emmanuel, which means God with us, while the hymn begins with the verse about Emmanuel.

For a concrete example of the pattern followed each of the O antiphons, following is the antiphon for Dec. 17th. It begins by addressing God as O Sapientia, O Wisdom, then it describes what God’s wisdom does, and it ends with a petition, "come to teach us the way of prudence."
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, that proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end mightily, and disposing all things sweetly! come and teach us the way of prudence."
These are the corresponding modified hymn verses.
Veni, O Sapientia, quae hic disponis omnia, veni, viam prudentiae ut doceas et gloriae. R: Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel, nascetur pro te Israel!

O Come Thou Wisdom from on high, that orderest all things mightily. to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in your ways to go. R: Rejoice! Rejoice! O Israel, to thee shall come Emmanuel!"
To show how deeply it is possible to delve when exploring the meaning of each antiphon, here is Dom Gueranger’s commentary about this first O antiphon.
O uncreated Wisdom, who art so soon to make Thyself visible to Thy creatures, truly Thou disposest all things. It is by Thy permission that the emperor Augustus issues a decree ordering the enrolment of the whole world. Each citizen of the vast empire is to have his name enrolled in the city of his birth. This prince has no other object in this order, which sets the world in motion, but his own ambition. Men go to and fro by millions, and an unbroken procession traverses the immense Roman world; men think they are doing the bidding of man, and it is God whom they are obeying. This world-wide agitation has really but one object; it is, to bring to Bethlehem a man and woman who live at Nazareth in Galilee, inorder that this woman, who is unknown to the world but dear to heaven, and who is at the close of the ninth month since she conceived her Child, may give birth to this Child in Bethlehem; for the Prophet has said of HIm: 'His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity. And thou, O Bethlehem! art not the least among the thousand cities of Juda, for out of thee He shall come.' O divine Wisdom! how strong art Thou in thus reaching Thine ends by means which are infallible, though hidden; and yet, how sweet, offering no constraint to man's free-will; and withal, how fatherly, in providing for our necessities! Thou choosest Bethlehem for Thy birth-place, because Bethlehem signifies the house of bread. In this, Thou teachest us that Thou art our Bread, the nourishment and support of our life. With God as our food, we cannot die. O Wisdom of the Father, living Bread that hast descended from heaven, come speedily into us, that thus we may approach to Thee and be enlightened by Thy light, and by that prudence which leads to salvation."
Bringing the O Antiphons Home

Many Catholics are becoming interested in including the O antiphons as part of their Advent preparations, by singing or reciting or listening to recordings (or doing all of these things) between Dec. 17 and 23. Everyone can find renewed inspiration at the end of Advent by praying the O antiphons as a countdown to the great feast that is to come. Numerous craft ideas to reinforce their significance for children are available on the Internet, for example here and this excellent one here.

ERO CRAS: I Will Be Tomorrow

My middle school Latin students were greatly impressed with this tidbit about the O antiphons, so I suspect other children will be too. The initials of the first words of the O antiphons form an acrostic when you reverse them: ERO CRAS.
This is understood as Christ saying to us, "I will be tomorrow.” I don't know about you, but that gives me goose bumps.

Bringing the O Antiphons to Facebook

I’ve gotten in the habit of breaking my self-imposed Facebook fast for Advent in honor of the O antiphons. Starting on Dec. 17, I post a link on my Facebook wall each day until Dec. 23; the link goes to a post about the O antiphon of the day from The New Liturgical Movement website. I admire the way the NLM posts about the O antiphons concisely brought together the Latin, the English, a link to the sung antiphon, and how they also provide a lovely image for each. Here are the links in case you might want to use them yourself.