The O Antiphons: O Wisdom

December 17, 2017 | Reflections From Sr Mary

Ding dong, ding dong cries the beautiful Ukranian Bell Carol that we have just listened to:

Ring Christmas bells, merrily ring,
tell all the world, Jesus is king.
Loudly proclaim, with one accord, the happy tale, welcome the Lord!
Ring, ring, ring, ring,
ding dong, ding dong, ding! 

Today, on Gaudete Sunday, the bells echoing through our cloisters marking the hours of the day, are filled with rejoicing and joy! Have we heard them yet? The call to prayer, yes! The call to hurry to meet the Lord, yes! But the call to rejoice and thrill the heart? Perhaps not fully yet! But as we move through this most beautiful week of rejoicing and our O Antiphons ascend before our God, let every bell sound forth and ring with joy! Let every heart, rejoice and sing!

Ding, dong, ding! Throughout this week, we will ring the seven bells of Advent to accompany our O Antiphons! From as far back as the 8th century, the O Antiphons have been chanted throughout the monasteries of Europe and from there to every part of the world. Together with the Magnificat they have been sung at Vespers in the week leading up to Christmas and during the singing, the seven bells have rung out, calling the faithful to rejoice as they marked off the days approaching Christmas, the coming of the Lord in our midst. The bells invited all to join with Mary on her journey to Bethlehem and today, all these centuries later, as we repeat this beautiful tradition, the seven bells call each one of us to do the same. Ding dong, ding… come with me, calls Mary, come with me to Bethlehem, come with me to birth Jesus into our world!

It is so fitting that the Magnificat is enshrined by the O Antiphon each evening. The joy of Mary’s words arise from a heart overflowing with the Word made flesh. It flies upward to the Father and outward to others setting the infant in Elizabeth’s womb leaping. So may our singing of the O Antiphons and the Magnificat throughout this week set the presence of the Lord leaping in the hearts of all.

The O Antiphons hallow, or make holy, this time of preparation for Christ’s birth. The first word “O” tells us that the cycle of time is almost complete – like the closing of a perfect circle. The very shape of the “O” conveys this. So it is time to mend the broken circles of our lives by doing our inner work and returning, as a circle does, to our point of origin. God is our beginning and comes to us at Christmas so we return to him and complete the circle once again. Thus, the O of our antiphons, becomes the O of our lives and the life of the world.

Perhaps we could begin each day making that O sign with our finger to consciously remind ourselves of this hallowed time and make it again, each time, we remember what we are about on our journey to Bethlehem.

In the monasteries of Europe, Mary was known as the O Madonna and she was depicted as large, maternal and venerable through Christ-bearing. So once again we have this strong presence of the feminine shining through in Advent and Christmastide.

Mary herself undoubtedly called upon her child with those names that are so full of faith:
O Wisdom
O Adonai
O Root of Jesse
O Key of David
O Rising Sun
O Desire of Nations
O Emmanuel.

Here is the child so deeply desired!

The O is repeated over and over again at the end of each Antiphon:
O come and teach us
O come and save us
O come to deliver us
O come to liberate us
O come and enlighten us
O come and save all

We labour under our shadows and are calling out for relief. Mary labours while giving birth and upon the safe delivery of Jesus, depends our safe deliverance.

O Wisdom
O Wisdom, come and teach us the way of Truth.

We could go even further and say that the world’s deliverance depends upon our safe delivery of Jesus in our daily living. Magdalen has designed some beautiful posters this year to remind us of this very fact. Her images and words enhance the singing of our O Antiphons and lead us into deeper prayer for our world. They link each antiphon with those who are suffering in our world at present. So, as we enter the church each evening, I invite you to pause awhile before these posters and bring the images of our suffering sisters and brothers with us into our hearts and our prayer. And, as we sing our O Antiphons and our Magnificat, let our whole being resound with the presence of Jesus, ringing, singing, sending him forth for one another and for the whole world especially those living in peril, in darkness, in fear, in suffering, in the shadow of death.

Ding, dong, ding… the first bell will soon proclaim…

O Wisdom of the most high
From whose mouth you came forth
Who order all things with strength and gentleness:
Come and teach us the way of truth.

The candle in front of the O Antiphon poster shines a light for us this evening on Climate Change… and so, we pray:
Come and teach us, O Wisdom,
so that we may tend Mother Earth, our beautiful planet, created from the depths of God’s wisdom and ordered with strength and gentleness. May we wake up to the many ways we are destroying this order. Sustain all whose families, homes and living are damaged by drought, fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake, mudslide or rising sea levels. May we, your people, learn again the ways of nurture, delight and care.

O Wisdom of the most high
From whose mouth you came forth
Who order all things with strength and gentleness:
Come and teach us the way of truth.

Ding dong, ding dong, ding…


(Recommended reading: The Bells to Bethlehem by Oliver Treanor)