Monday, December 16, 2013

O My! O Gee! O Antiphons!

Breviary novices find a season such as Advent a little tricky, since that puts an end to simply using everything in the 4-week psalter for the day's prayers. Instead, we have that extra flip to the front of the book, known as the Proper of Seasons. Starting tomorrow, it gets even more confusing, as we start the season-within-a-season that occurs from December 17th thru 23rd. It's the Octave before Christmas. If you add December 24th and Christmas day, you might say we are starting the Christmas Novena. 

This means that whenever December 17th rolls around, we ignore the advent weekday in the Proper --in this case Third week of Advent,Tuesday--and instead turn ahead to December 17th. (p. 318 in volume I of the 4-volume breviary, and page 116 of the one-volume Christian Prayer. And page 292 if you are using the 4-volume African breviary. 

Why this weirdness? Because December 17th thru 23rd can occur in various places during  the third and the fourth week of advent, depending on what day of the week Christmas comes each year. We have to have four Sundays of Advent. But the fourth week of advent might only last a day or two.  Hence this 17th thru 23rd section, separate from the advent weekdays in your breviary. The whole point of 17 thru 23rd is heightened anticipation as we begin a countdown til Christmas. The Church is a little kid that just can't wait, and that is reflected in the liturgy. Our invitatory antiphon moves from a sedate reference to "the King who is to come" to a more excited "the Lord is close at hand!"  We have hymns such as Lo! How A Rose and Behold a Virgin Bearing Him, which are more Christmas-y in character than what we used throughout Advent. 

Best of all, the Magnificat antiphons during 17-23 consist of the beautiful prophetic names of the Messiah, otherwise known as the O Antiphons. We know them well in their rhyming verse form as the verses of the hymn O Come O Come Emmanuel. The liturgy saves verse 1 for December 23rd since it is the greatest of these holy messianic names. 

If you have kids at home, the O antiphons all by themselves make a wonderful family devotion. A search on the internet will show you all kinds of crafts and activities built around them for the craft-and-activity-inclined. In our family, we simply read the O Antiphon each night at dinner as we light the advent wreath. Some years I'd also make the kids sings the appropriate verse of O come O come Emmanuel, but that has fallen by the wayside as the more enthusiastic singers among them have grown up and left home. But it is certainly worth making a Big Deal out of the O antiphons each year. Here is my favorite website for information related to the O antiphons and other ideas related to family advent and Christmas customs.

For the adult mind and heart, you can't beat Father Z for these reflections on the O Antiphons, although admittedly I haven't examined every O antiphon link out there. If any of you come across something you like, please share it here.