Editor’s note: The following homily preached by the Reverend Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., for the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), December 15, 2019, at the Church of the Holy Innocents, Manhattan.
Today we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday since the Church assumes the mantle of St. Paul (Ph 4:4) in the Introit, urging us to “rejoice” because our redemption is close at hand; in point of fact, Advent is more than half over! The signs of rejoicing are abundant: the priest lays aside the somber purple of the season and dons a rose-colored chasuble; flowers adorn the altar; the organ is employed for more than the mere accompaniment of congregational singing. Gaudete in Domino; iterum dico: Gaudete! (Rejoice in Lord! I will say it again: Rejoice!).
Beyond that, you will recall that on the First Sunday of Advent, I noted that this season is unequally divided into two parts: the first focuses our attention on the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time (the Parousia), while the second makes our focus the First Coming of the Christ as the Babe of Bethlehem. Well, starting on Tuesday of this week, we shall have arrived at that point. The liturgical markers for this time are the so-called “O Antiphons,” sometimes also called “The Great O’s.” These antiphons frame the Magnificat at Vespers from December 17 through December 23. In the Ordinary Form of the Mass, they also serve as the Alleluia verse before the Gospel.
They are referred to as the “O Antiphons” because each begins with an “O” of address, with the title following the “O” being a name for Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah:
17 December: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
18 December: O Adonai (O Lord)
19 December: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
20 December: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
21 December: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
22 December: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
23 December: O Emmanuel (O God with Us)
As I listed these titles, you should have recognized in them the ever-popular Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (in Latin, Veni, Veni Emmanuel), which is a paraphrase of these antiphons. Although their origin is lost in the mists of history, we do hear about them already in the fifth century and by the eighth century, they found a place in the liturgy of the Diocese of Rome. What always fascinates people is the realization that the first letters of the titles, beginning at the end, form a Latin acrostic (ero cras) which translates to “Tomorrow, I will be [there]”: Emmanuel, Rex Gentium, Oriens, Clavis David, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia. Each of these is a title for the Messiah, drawn principally from the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah. So, let’s take a brief look at them to learn what they tell us about the Lord whose Coming we await. You will notice a pattern in these antiphons: Christ is addressed with one of these Messianic titles; He is then bid to come, in order to accomplish some Messianic mission.
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3)
“[…] he is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom.” (28:29)
This prophecy is also significant because it speaks of the Messiah as “coming forth from the mouth of the Most High.” That should remind us of an important doctrinal truth found in the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel, wherein Jesus is identified as the Word that proceeds from the Father.
O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the Law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
In the Old Testament, we read the following:
“For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us.” (Is 33:22)
“And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.” (Ex 3:2)
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tables of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.’” (Ex 24:12)
O Radix Jesse
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before whom kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.
Thus, in Isaiah we read:
“A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” (11:1)
“On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” (11:10)
Jesse was the father of King David, we read in Matthew’s genealogy, which also tells us that St. Joseph, the putative father of Jesus came from that same royal line.
O Clavis David
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
who open and no one can shut;
who shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
In Isaiah, we find the following:
“I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.” (22:22)
“…To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” (42:7)
And then, St. John the Divine “piggy-backs” on Is 22:
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens.’” (Rev 3:7)
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Rising Sun (Dayspring),
splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
“O Oriens” comes from Malachi 4:2:
“But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” That title is then taken up into the Benedictus (the Gospel canticle of Lauds or Morning Prayer) in Luke 1:78-79.
The rest emanates from Isaiah:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.” (9:2)
O Rex Gentium
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.
The prophets teach:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation.” (Is 28:16)
“. . . and I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts.” (Haggai 2:7)
“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples.” (Is 2:4)
And once more, St. Paul develops their thought:
“For he [Christ] is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.” (Eph 2:14)
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
Isaiah had prophesied:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Is 7:14)
Taking these titles together, we should see that we have been treated to a very full course in Christology, which is a most fitting way to observe the final days of this season of holy expectation. As we seek to wait for the Lord with the proper frame of mind, we can do no better than to enroll in the School of Mary, the preeminent Woman of Advent. The prayer of St. John Paul II provides a good guide to accompany our meditation on the “O Antiphons”:
May the Virgin Mary help us to open the doors of our hearts to Christ, Redeemer of man and of history; may she teach us to be humble, because God looks upon the lowly; may she enable us to grow in understanding the value of prayer, of inner silence, of listening to God’s Word; may she spur us to seek God’s will deeply and sincerely, even when this upsets our plans; may she encourage us while we wait for the Lord, sharing our time and energies with those in need.
Mother of God, Virgin of expectation, grant that the God-who-comes will find us ready to receive the abundance of his mercy.
May Mary Most Holy, “Woman of the Eucharist” and Virgin of Advent, prepare us all to welcome Christ’s coming joyfully and to celebrate worthily his sacramental presence in the mystery of the Eucharist.
The sainted Pope’s final plea leads us to the Holy Eucharist – the extension in time of the mystery of the Incarnation – one miracle leading to another. And so, it is not out of order to expect during this sacred time answers to heartfelt and sincere prayers (surely, much lesser “miracles” than either the Incarnation or the Eucharist), which intuition gave rise to the beautiful and powerful Christmas novena, which surely gives greater promise of fulfillment for holy desires than putting them on Santa’s list!
Hail, and blessed be the hour and moment
At which the Son of God was born
Of a most pure Virgin
In a stable at midnight in Bethlehem
In the piercing cold.
At that hour, vouchsafe, I beseech Thee,
To hear my prayers and grant my desires.
The God of unsurpassed and unsurpassing generosity, the God of surprises, would be most delighted to accompany the Gift of His Son to you, along with all that you need to strengthen you on the royal road to salvation. Indeed, we have God’s own word for such confidence, expressed as a rhetorical question by St. Paul: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Rom 8:32).
Gaudete in Domino; iterum dico: Gaudete! (Rejoice in Lord! I will say it again: Rejoice!).
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