Friday, 23 December 2011

O Emmanuel

File:Mary16thC.jpgIcon of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the child Immanuel (16th cent. St. Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai).
The Latin antiphon is:
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
or in English:
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
It's based on one of the most familiar of the Advent/Christmas readings:

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14

God is with us which is a scary and comforting thought.  Scary because it means the Holy of Holies is among us, dwelling in an earthly tabernacle of frail flesh.  Comforting because it means that God utterly identifies with us - adopts us - and grants us the Kingdom as a gift.  Great, eh?

Thursday, 22 December 2011

O Rex Gentium

File:Hubert van Eyck 023.jpg 
Christ the King, a detail from the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck.

The Latin antiphon is:
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.
which is in English:
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.
"For a child has been born for us, a son given us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

"He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." Isaiah 2:4

If you are going to acknowledge Christ as King of the Nations, then using a prayer from one of them may not be a bad thing.

"May all beings everywhere plagued with sufferings of body and mind quickly be freed from their illnesses. May those frightened cease to be afraid, and may those bound be free. May the powerless find power, and may people think of befriending one another. May those who find themselves in trackless, fearful wildernesses - the children, the aged, the unprotected - be guarded by beneficent celestials, and may they swiftly attain Buddhahood."  Buddhist prayer

I can reconcile this one with my faith as the "beneficent celestials" to me are "angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven" . As to "attaining Buddahood" - well, being perfected in Christ through his Incarnation, Death and Resurrection is achieving perfect fulfilment or Buddahood.  If Christ is the Cornerstone, then he draws all nations and faith to himself and perfects in due course all our errors and misunderstandings.  or Anonymous Christianity - the theological idea that declares that those who have never heard the Gospel might be saved.

You can find traces of this idea in the Vatican 2 document "Lumen Gentium", which states that those "who no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation". (LG para 15)

The German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner's put it more forcefully: Non-Christians could have "in [their] basic orientation and fundamental decision, accepted the salvific grace of God, through Christ, although [they] may never have heard of the Christian revelation." 

 King of the nations, bring ALL your children into the fullness of life that is your will for us all.  Amen.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

O Oriens

"Gero crucifix“, late 10th century, Cologne Cathedral, Germany
 In Latin the antiphon is:
O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
or in English:
O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
(NB: A literal translation of the Latin is "O Rising Sun", but the poetic "O Morning Star" is often preferred.)

Isaiah had written:

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined." Isaiah 9:2

Light from the East.  The direction of the rising Sun, the reason why some of us still prefer to face east when celebrating the Eucharist .  That light which is coming - the Light of the World.File:Hunt Light of the World.jpg                        
This poem offers some food for reflection:
O Oriens Paradiso XXX; 61
First light and then first lines along the east
To touch and brush a sheen of light on water
As though behind the sky itself they traced
The shift and shimmer of another river
Flowing unbidden from its hidden source;
The Day-Spring, the eternal Prima Vera.
Blake saw it too. Dante and Beatrice
Are bathing in it now, away upstream…
So every trace of light begins a grace
In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam
Is somehow a beginning and a calling;
“Sleeper awake, the darkness was a dream
For you will see the Dayspring at your waking,
Beyond your long last line the dawn is breaking”

Malcolm Guite

May the light ignite in our hearts a new sense of being called to worship, serve and love.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

O Clavis David

Samuel anointing David
The antiphon for today is:
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.
which is in English:
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
It draws on:

"I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open." Isaiah 22:22

"His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore." Isaiah 9:7

"To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." Isaiah 42:7.

Again the promise of liberation and freedom.   This paraphrase from (By A.C.A. Hall, Bishop of Vermont. A.R. Mowbray & Co., n.d. but c. 1914) gives food for reflection:

O Lord Jesu Christ, to Whom is given the throne and sceptre of David Thy father over the house of Israel,
that Thou mighest extend his kingdom over all peoples:
Thou didst come in our nature, as the Son of man forgiving sins, dispelling sickness and loosing bonds:
to Thee now is committed all authority in heaven and on earth,
and the powers of hell cannot withstand Thy word:
Come, we pray Thee, by Thy grace, 
and through the instrumentality of Thy Church,
to loosen the prisoner from the chains of sin,
to enlighten with the glad tidings of Thy word all who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
that they may rejoice in the deliverance which Thou hast wrought.

It elliptically touches on the "political" impact of the Incarnation. But today, inspired by the likes of Archbishops Desmond Tutu and Trevor Huddleston, we are more likely to be pointed in our Christian critique of political policies.  and rightly so.  Perhaps it's a day to pray that the shadow of the Stalinist prison house will begin to shorten in North Korea?

Sunday, 18 December 2011

O Radix Jesse

File:Master of James IV of Scotland getty Ms ludwig IX 18 f65 1510-20.jpg 

Tree of Jesse from the Master of James IV of Scotland, Flemish, Bruges and Ghent or Mechelen, 1510 - 1520. Tempera colours, gold, and ink on parchment 9 1/8 x 6 9/16 in. MS. LUDWIG IX 18, FOL. 65

The antiphon for today is:
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
or in English:
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.
Isaiah had written: "A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." Isaiah 11:1 and "On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious." Isaiah 11:10

Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). 

Radical to think that it will be a poor Jewish boy from the butt end of the Roman Empire (Palestine was not a sought after posting) who the power brokers will belt up before and that he will be (as he is) the one to whom prayer is offered in one form or another in nearly every nation of the world.  Oh dear - maybe the bankers ain't gonna fare so well on the day of judgement?  Or the politicians?

O Adonai

The prophet Isaiah
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 leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
Isaiah prophesied:

"but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins." Isaiah 11:4-5 

"For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us." Isaiah 33:22

I was interested to discover this little fact about the "O antiphons": "The Os themselves already contain an answer to the riddled petitions they embody. Written out together across a page in Latin, the initial consonants of the antiphons (Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia) form a reverse acrostic spelling Ero cras — I will be there tomorrow. And so they make for that generous and rare thing, a prayer to God that is its own answer from God." (from Anglicans Online" )  So redemption is promised for the future.  Of course, one of the classic criticisms of the Church is that it is very good at promising paradise tomorrow to those whose today is sheer hell on earth.  The Holy Orthodox promised heaven to the Tsarist peasants if they kept quiet and didn't upset the system topped by their "little Father" the Tsar.

That isn't the prophetic vision: the vision of the Isaiah school of prophecy is a vision of justice for the most vulnerable. (And yes I do go with modern Biblical criticism on the authorship of Isaiah -tradition may say the book was written by THE Isaiah himself, but modern scholars have for over 100 yrs divided the book into 3 parts: Proto-Isaiah (chs 1–39), containing the words of the 8th century BC prophet & 7th century  expansions; Deutero-Isaiah (chs 40–55), a 6th century BC work by an author who wrote towards the end of the Babylonian captivity; and Trito-Isaiah (chapters 56–66), probably written by a group of authors in Jerusalem shortly after the exile.)  Of course, later interpreters of the Scriptures may put a different spin on what seems like a plain, straightforward and obvious text.  Isaiah 7:14 for example, where the prophet assures the King that God will save the Kingdom of Judah from the invading armies of Israel and Syria and that the sign which will prove this is the forthcoming birth of a child called Emmanuel, "God With Us". The Hebrew grammar suggests that the "young woman" is already pregnant and therefore not a virgin. However, the Greek-speaking 1st century AD author of Matthew 1:23 interpreted it as a prophecy that the Messiah would be born of a virgin.  And the Church has been stuck with this ever since.  We all tend to spin the Scriptures to validate our own point of view.  And course, I'm right and you're wrong/theologically unsophisticated/thick (delete what doesn't apply).  Well, that's what we tend to do anyway.

The Christian hope is that the 2nd coming, the arrival of the Kingdom of God, will bring true justice, God's justice, for all.  The Porsche in the driveway of the splendour of your Basillica will be utterly unimportant in comparison to your walkly justly and acting fairly.  Come that day of splendour and terror (and I imagine we'll all be bl**dy scared when it comes, even if we do live in love and trust with God and try to stress the joy and freedom of being a Christian) it is what we have to to bring the Kingdom nearer that will matter rather than our Wonga generating facility.  Will we fare well or fail?  I hope and trust we will but we have to do something about it.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
or in English:
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
This liturgical antiphon for today is based on words from Isaiah:

"The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord." Isaiah 11:2-3

"he is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom." Isaiah 28:29

It would be quite flattering to be regarded as a source of Wisdom I imagine, but the other day I was regarded by a number of folks at Waverly Station as a source of information.  They were all Chinese and kept on asking me if this was the train for London, despite the visible presence of a train person with a whistle on the platform.  I wondered if I projected some mysterious aura of great knowledge?  Rachel pointed out I was wearing my Russian black fur ushanka, complete with a red star with a hammer and sickle on it.  They probably thought I was People's Police and might be helpful!!! (An ushanka is literally  an "ear hat") - a Russian fur cap with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap, or tied at the chin to protect the ears, jaw and lower chin from the cold. The word ushanka derives from ushi, "ears" in Russian.)

People can make assumptions about who they can find wisdom from.  A dog collar for spiritual wisdom, an ushanka for practical help.  Neither items of dress guarantee any wisdom in the wearer, even in the right context.  Wisdom comes from both knowledge of and being experienced in the tradition and practise of the area in which wisdom is sought. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever." (Ps 111:10).  Our wisdom comes from a source other than ourselves and it alone can teach us what the antiphon calls "prudence" which quells the devices and desires of our unruly hearts and draws us nearer to God.  and god who is Wisdom draws near to us as we prepare to celebrate the feast of the Incarnation.

This, if you are interested, is what an ushanka looks like:

It keeps the wise man's head very warm BTW!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

St Drostan's Day


A page from the Book of Deer which is a source for the life of St Drostan .

Drostan was a Scottish  (naturally!) abbot who ministered in the misty North about A.D. 600. All we know about him comes from Good (because he founded my alma mater Aberdeen University) Bishop Elphinstone's Aberdeen Breviary and the "Book of Deer", a ninth-century MSS. now in Cambridge University Library  (nicked from us by the Engerlish or their more-French-than-anything-else allies in the Scottish nobility during the Wars of Independence and gifted to Cantab by the Wee Wee German Lairdie aka George I) but the two accounts don't entirely agree. He had links to the royal family of the Scoti - who were Irish, not Scots! When he showed signs of a religious vocation he was handed over to St. Columba, who trained him and professed him as a monk. He went with Columba to Aberdour in Buchan (the real Aberdour is, of course in Fife!) some 45 miles from Aberdeen. The Pictish ruler of the area gave them the site of Deer, fourteen miles away where they established a monastery, and when Columba returned to Iona he left St. Drostan there as abbot of the new monastery. On the death of the Abbot of Holywood a few years later, Drostan was chosen to succeed him. Afterwards, feeling called to a life of greater seclusion, he resigned the abbacy, headed north, and became a hermit at Glenesk. Here his holiness attracted the poor and needy, and many miracles are ascribed to him, including the restoration of sight to a priest named Symon. After his death his relics were transferred to Aberdour and preserved there in a stone coffin.  The monastery of Old Deer, which had fallen into decay, was rebuilt for Cistercian monks in 1213 and continued until the Reformation.

Well, it's either remember him or celebrate the Emperor Nero's birthday so...
take yer pick!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Rejoice in the Lord Always!

I haven't posted for a bit simply because Rachel's been up & I've been posting stuff for Advent elsewhere (  However, Advent 3 is Gaudete Sunday, which takes its name from the Latin word Gaudete ("Rejoice"), the first word of the introit in the Mass Propers for Advent 3:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.".

It's one of the two Sundays in the year when rose-coloured vestments may be worn instead of violet, (or Sarum blue if you're Very Percy Dearmer!).

Rejoicing and thanksgiving are vital parts of the life of faith: without them, life descends into an unremmitting grind of trying (and generally failing) to "do the right thing".  If Christians ain't joyful, then we are very unlikely to convince anyone that the our faith is life enhancing rather than life inhibiting.  And if we can't do that, we're failing in our commission to go out and preach the GOOD News!

Smile! It's Gaudete Sunday!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Charles de Foucauld


The last picture of Charles de Foucauld taken in 1914.

This Holy Failure was who we commemorated at Mass today.  He failed because he founded a religious community which attracted no members and had not converted a single Tuareg tribesman before he died.  He triumphed because his vision and spirituality inspired others years later to work for God in the desert, with the mentally ill and in the urban desert of the City.  he also had some fine phrases and thoughts.  Like this:

Prayer is just conversation with God: listening to him; speaking with him; gazing upon him in silence. The best prayer is the one in which there is the most love. Adoration, wordless admiration, that is the most eloquent form of prayer: that wordless admiration which contains the most passionate declaration of love. Charles de Foucauld.
Thanks be to God for Holy Failures.