by H.T. Henry
Transcribed by W.G. Kofron
This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Kevin Knight, who has undertaken a project to transcribe an online version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.
(Roman Breviary: Antiphonæ majores, "greater antiphons").
The seven antiphons to the Magnificat in the ferial Office of the seven days preceeding the vigil of Christmas;
so called because all begin with the interjection "O".
Their opening words are: (1) "O Sapientia",
(2) "O Adonai", (3) "O Radix Jesse", (4) "O Clavis David", (5) "O
Oriens", (6) "O Rex gentium", (7) "O Emmanuel". Addressed to
Christ under one or other of His Scriptural titles, they conclude
with a distinct petition to the coming Lord (e.g. "O Wisdom
come and teach us the way of prudence"; "O Adonai
come and redeem us by thy outstretched arm"; "O Key of David
come and lead from prison the captive sitting in darkness
and in the shadow of death" etc.). Couched in a poetic and
Scriptural phraseology they constitute a notable feature of the
Advent Offices. These seven antiphons are found in the Roman
Breviary; but other medieval Breviaries added (1) "O virgo
virginum quomodo fiet" etc., still retained in the Roman Breviary
as the proper antiphon to the Magnificat in the second Vespers of
the feast Expectatio Partus BMV (18 December), the prayer of
this feast being followed by the antiphon "O Adonai" as a
commemoration of the ferial office of 18 December; (2) "O
Gabriel, nuntius clorum", subsequently replaced, almost
universally, by the thirteenth-century antiphon, "O Thoma
Didyme", for the feast of the Apostle St. Thomas (21 December).
Some medieval churches had twelve greater antiphons, adding to
the above (1) "O Rex pacifice", (2) "O mundi Domina", (3) "O
Hierusalem", addressed respectively to Our Lord, Our Lady, and
Jerusalem. Guéranger gives the Latin text of all of these
(except the "O mundi Domina"), with vernacular prose translation
(Liturgical Year, Advent, Dublin, 1870, 508-531), besides much
devotional and some historical comment. The Parisian Rite added
two antiphons ("O sancte sanctorum" and "O pastor Israel") to the
seven of the Roman Rite and began the recitation of the nine on
the 15th of December. Prose renderings of the Roman Breviary O's
will be found in the Marquess of Bute's translation of the Roman Breviary (winter volume). Guéranger remarks that the
antiphons were appropriately assigned to the Vesper Hour because
the Saviour came in the evening hour of the world (vergente mundi vespere, as the Church sings) and that they were
attached to the Magnificat to honour her through whom He came.
By exception to the rule for ferial days, the seven antiphons are
sung in full both before and after the canticle. "In some
Churches it was formerly the practice to sing them thrice: that
is, before the Canticle, before the Gloria Patri, and after the
Sicut erat" (Guéranger). There are several translations
into English verse, both by Catholics and non-Catholics, the most
recent being that in Dom Gregory Ould's Book of Hymns
(Edinburgh, 1910, no. 5) by W. Rooke-Ley, in seven quatrains
together with a refrain-quatrain giving a translation of the
versicle and response ("Rorate", etc.).
The seven antiphons have been found in manuscripts of the eleventh century.
A paraphrase of some of these is found in the hymn "Veni, veni, Emmanuel" given by
Daniel in his Thesaurus Hymnologicus (II, 336) and translated
by Neale in his Medieval Hymns and Sequences (3rd ed., London,
p. 171) and others, and used in various hymn-books (Latin text in
The Roman Hymnal, New York, 1884, 139).
Neale supposed the hymn to be of the twelfth century, but it has not been traced
back further than the first decade of the eighteenth century.
For first lines of translations, see Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology
(2nd ed., London, 1907, 74, i; 1551, i; 1721, i).
For the Scriptural sources of the antiphons see John Marquess of Bute,
Roman Breviary, Winter, 203, also Marbach's Carmina scripturarum etc. (Strasburg, 1907) under "O" in the Index alphabeticus.
THURSTON, The Great Antiphons, Heralds of Christmas
in The Month (Dec., 1905), 616-631, gives liturgical uses,
literary illustrations, and peculiar customs relating to the
antiphons; questions the view of CARROL,
L'Avent Liturgique in Revue Bénédictine
(1905), n. 4, that they do not antedate the ninth century, gives
much illustration (notably from The Christ of Cynewulf
written circa 800) to show that they "are much older", and knows
"no valid reason for regarding them as posterior to the rest of
the Roman Antiphonary or to the time of Pope Gregory himself";
CARROL in Dict. d'archéologie et
liturgie chrétienne, s. v. Avent, repeats (col.
3229) his view, but in a foot-note refers the reader to THURSTON'S article in The Month; BAYLEY, Greater Antiphons of Advent in
Pax (an Anglican periodical, 6 Dec., 1905), 231-239;
STALEY, O Sapientia in Church Times (13 Dec., 1907), p. 812; WITHERBY
O Sapientia, Seven Sermons on the Ancient Antiphons for Advent (London, 1906).
Transcribed by WGKofron
With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio
See New Advent Catholic Website
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI
Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Reprinted by permission of copyright owner.
Also see CNP Booklet of Chant, Volume 1