O - what joy to discover music sung through the centuries, and to sing it as well. I feel a part of history, and a grounding in life. This music speaks to my soul and nurtures my spirit. Researching the story behind the music feeds me in this season leading up to Christmas. Here I share some of the treasures I've found:
For centuries, the Christian churches have used antiphons in her liturgies, honoring and celebrating many persons, saints and events in the Church's life. In his article on the topic of Antiphons, Dr. John Julian found it appropriate to give "special mention" to seven Antiphons that have become known as the "O Antiphons" or “The Seven O’s." These seven antiphons were recited on seven consecutive days that have become known as the Greater Ferias, and for that reason, the antiphons have been called the Greater Antiphons and the Great O's. The Church has also had other well-known groups of antiphons in history.
The antiphons date back at least to the reign of Charlemagne (771-814), http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/Notes_On_Carols/O_Antiphons/o_antiphons.htm
This set of antiphons is chanted during the evening Vespers prayers, both before and after The Magnificat. Before the Reformation the antiphons were recited each evening, except for December 21st, as it was the celebration of the feast of St. Thomas. But after the Reformation, they were recited from Dec. 17 through Dec. 23.
One verse was sung or chanted each evening (as opposed to being sung together as a single hymn, as we do today). The last antiphon is recited at Lauds (the first of the canonical hours) on December 23.
The reason why these Antiphons were recited during the Vespers prayers has been extensively discussed. I intend to research this and share next year.
Each of the seven antiphons addresses Christ by one of His Scriptural names or titles, each one praises the coming of the Savior by a different name, and each one closes with a petition appropriate to the title. For example:
O Emmanuel, God with us,
Our King and Lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Saviour:
Come to save us, O Lord our God. Amen.
The first of these antiphons is
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
( O eternal Wisdom, which proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end of creation unto the other, mightily and harmoniously disposing all things: Come Thou to teach us the way of understanding.)
In this antiphon, Christ is addressed by the title of "eternal Wisdom," and the petition asked of Him is: "Come Thou to teach us the way of understanding."
I was privileged to sing this O Antiphon with Dr. Marguerite Mullee as part of the Wisdom House virtual choir offerings in lessons and carols this year. You may listen here: https://soundcloud.com/donna-marie-castaner/o-sapientia-donna-castaner
I'm enjoying my research into the music of the liturgical church and finding such richness there. I invite you to listen to this glorious rendition of the O Antiphons, sung by a lovely choir and arranged by a modern day composer (unknown): https://youtu.be/S4dCLJ_9a7Q?list=PLJ72LmTGLWCvw2PkaIghGUQKMVWLMSE4s
Happy Advent - Christmas is coming soon!
love and hugs in harmony,