With 17 December we begin the final week of Advent and, as in every year, the Magnificat at Vespers is introduced by one of the seven Solemn Antiphons. Because each antiphon begins with the exclamation “O” (e.g., “O Wisdom…”, “O Adonai…”, “O Root of Jesse’s stock…”, etc.) they are also called the “O Antiphons”.
Each antiphon bears a typological image or title of Christ. What does that mean? Each antiphon actually refers to a verse from the Jewish Scriptures–Sirach, Exodus, Isaiah, Zachariah, Haggai–a compelling image, interpreted by the Church Fathers as anticipating Christ in prophetic utterance. As is not unusual in Advent, we begin with the pre-Christian scriptures and find the reality of the incarnate Son of God already active in creation, in covenant, in hope and motivation.
This happens to be one of those years when the pivotal antiphon for 21 December, “O Radiant Dawn…” falls on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year after which the days begin to lengthen–a symbol of Christ who’s birth in the depth of the night brings the growing light of the world.
Here at Holy Cross, we sing them in English translation but to the Cistercian version of the traditional Second Tone melodies, not one note changed.