Sunday, December 22, 2013

December 21st - O Oriens

Sorry for the tardiness on this post.  Yesterday was my first day back from retreat.  Life is a lot busier when you're not on retreat! (duh!)

Anyway, again a reminder that these O Antiphons are performed by the monks of St. Meinrad as part of a WONDERFUL collection of Advent and Christmas music.  I can't recommend the CD enough!  Good Advent music is hard to find, and there are some wonderfully prayerful selections on this CD.  Order a copy today and support a great monastery by clicking on this link:

What are the "O Antiphons"?  These "O Antiphons" are ancient pieces of chant sung on the days from December 17th through December 23rd.  Each day a different Old Testament title for the messiah is beseeched to come.  As the world cried out in longing for the Messiah before Christ, so we still cry out for his return.

Today's "O Antiphon" is a hymn to "Oriens" which is the most interesting of all the titles to translate.  First let's look at the antiphon in Latin and then in English.

Latin:O Oriens,splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

Now in Engllish: "O rising Sun, splendor of eternal light, and Son of righteousness, come and enlighten those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death"

"Oriens" we hear this Latin root word in different places.  First of all, 99% of Catholic Churches are built with the back door of Church facing West and the aisle points due East toward the altar and the sanctuary.  Mass where the priest faces the same direction as the people is thus referred to as "Ad ORIENTem" - or Mass towards the East.

"Orient" is also obviously used today to refer to the East, and we get our word "oriental", which has become more pejorative in nature as it now seems kind of weird to refer to all the people East of Europe with one word.  But I digress.

The "East" has always been the direction of Christian worship from the very first days because the Sun has been seen as an image of Christ, and thus the rising sun in the East has been seen to represent the "return of Christ" - so a Christian faces East in EXPECTATION of Christ's return.

"Oriens", though, is an "-ing" ending - thus it is "Easting" or "rising" or "rising Sun", which conveys an interesting point - it is happening continuously still, Christ's second coming is already, in a sense, happening now.  Certainly there will be a definitive return, but because of Christ's presence in us, he is already returning, thus we can refer to it as a developing story continuing to unfold.

"those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death" is a beautiful reference to one of my favorite Scripture passages.

Saint Zechariah sings a beautiful hymn of praise to God when John the Baptist is born.  This hymn is a prayer that every priest and anyone else who prays Morning Prayer recites or sings EVERY morning:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
He is come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,
Born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old
That he would save us from our enemies,
From the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
And to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath you swore to our father Abraham:
To set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear,
Holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
For you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Come, Rising Sun! (and Rising SON)!


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