O Antiphons

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Today, the Church begins to sing the seven, so-called “O Antiphons.” Dating from the early Church, these antiphons are sung at Mass and Evening Prayer during the seven days leading up to Christmas. They constitute a way for the Church in her need to cry out to her coming Lord that He might hasten on His way and raise her up from her misery. In crying out, the Church calls on the Lord by name, and as lovers do, she uses special names, intimate names drawn from sacred Scripture. While each of these names deserve meditation together with their petitions, I will only speak here of today’s (the translation from the original Latin is my own).

“O Wisdom,” the Church calls out, “who came forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching out powerfully from one end to the other, sweetly disposing all things: come to teach us the way of discretion.”

This Wisdom is of no ordinary kind. He is eternal, coming forth from the Father’s mouth. With the Father, He possesses power over all that is, and, fittingly, He disposes all things sweetly, ordering them. For it belongs to the wise to order things well.

Nor is this Wisdom locked in the past, only serving a function when the world was created. Such would be to say that the Father has stopped speaking, has stopped bringing forth Wisdom, but the Father never stops speaking. Rather, Wisdom is still coming forth, is still in possession of His power, and still does His work to dispose all things sweetly. After all, when we ask Him to teach us, are we not asking that He dispose us sweetly?

And what do we ask that He dispose us toward? To know the way of discretion. In Latin, this word for discretion, prudentiae, can mean many things; it can mean prudence, of course, but it can also mean foresight. Now foresight orders our current actions with an eye towards what is to come. Discretion, on the other hand, gives us freedom to act within the bounds of a law. And for the Christian, these two are effectively the same. For the Law structures our free acts with an eye toward future things, because it points to future things. The Law of the Jews pointed to Christ, and our Law points to joys marvelously new.

Here there is a wonder. The Church in calling to Her Lover does not simply reminisce over happy memories of a child in a stable and of angels singing to shepherds. She looks forward to a new order, tranquil and sweetly disposed. Her invocation of Wisdom, therefore, as She desires to see His flailing, little arms reach out, draws on a storehouse of graces. These are for what is to come; they are strength for the journey as we set forth on our way of discretion. And as She draws on these child-like graces, the Church recalls the reason for the Incarnation, that Christ might purchase for us our salvation on the Cross.

Br. John Peter Anderson, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE