From A to O
We began Advent with the “A” of Ad te levavi, in the introit for the first Sunday, and Aspiciens from the Night Office. Now in this time of Great Advent we look to the “Great Antiphons” or the “O Antiphons,” as they are called. Our beloved friend and mentor, Dr. Mary Berry of Cambridge, England, once told us that even in these wonderful chants of the season, we have “the Alpha and Omega.”
There is a greater sense of expectation and hope as Great Advent reaches its climax, in both the Mass and Divine Office chants. We often see the word veni (come). It appears in every one of the O Antiphons, which are sung with the Magnificat at Vespers each night. These contain both an invocation, using names for the long awaited Messiah from the Old Testament, and a petition for his coming as Savior. Scriptures are woven together with such imagery and poetry, making these Antiphons one of the great treasures of the early church. We know these antiphons have been sung from the 8th century! They all have basically the same tune, with slight variations according to textural differences, using Mode 2.
Starting on December 17th, the names of the promised Savior are:
O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord, Master)
O radix Jesse (O root of Jesse)
O clavis David (O key of David)
O Oriens (O Day Star)
O Rex gentium (O King of the nations)
O Emmanuel (O God with us)
The first letters of these titles, read backwards from the order in which they appear, form the sentence in Latin, ERO CRAS, which means, “I will be (with you) tomorrow“.
Below is a copy of the final O Antiphon, O Emmanuel. Notice the FA clef, always used with Mode 2 chants.The chant peaks on the phrase, “expectation of the peoples”, then approaches the invocation, “come and save us, O Lord our God”.