Beginning with the 17th of December, the liturgical tradition marks each day until Christmas Eve with an ancient and mysterious text, one of the so-called O-Antiphons. The O-Antiphons are among the most magnificent and ancient compositions of the Roman liturgy. Dating back to at least the seventh century, they are antiphons for the Magnificat, chanted at Vespers on the days before Christmas Eve. They are named “O” after their introductory exclamation of longing. The O-Antiphons give voice to the deepest longing of Advent, the coming of the Redeemer. Each daily antiphon takes a different image from the Hebrew Scriptures — Wisdom, Lord of Israel, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dawn, King of Nations, Emmanuel — to plead for the coming of Christ. Together, these antiphons move toward Christ’s birth, celebrated the day after the last of them has been chanted. In the English-speaking world, the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” has popularized these O-Antiphons farbeyond the confines of the church’s liturgy.
On December 17, the O-Antiphon begins by invoking “Holy Wisdom,” the ancient feminine embodiment of the Divine Presence in the Hebrew Scriptures. Here is the Latin text, and a literal translation:
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, who proceeded from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other and ordering all things powerfully and gently: come to teach us the way of prudence.
And here is how one might speak this ancient text for today:
O Holy Wisdom,
how I long for you!
You are the Word of Life
whispered by the Divine Presence.
With fierce tenderness
you reach to touch the ends of the galaxy
and the edges of the universe,
inviting all creation to flourish.
Come, Holy Wisdom,
show us wisdom’s ways.
With eight more shopping days left before Christmas, may the praying and counting the O-Antiphons direct our desires toward that midnight hour between the 24th and the 25th of December when, two millennia ago God was born in human form.
The above rendition of the first of the O-Antiphons by Teresa Berger originally appeared in her book Fragments of Real Presence (NY; Crossroad, 2005). Copyright © 2005, Teresa Berger. All rights reserved.