Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Advent antiphons

As Christmas approaches, Western Christian tradition has hallowed each evening from mid-Advent to 23 December with the singing of particular antiphons at Magnificat of Evening Prayer. Each antiphon recalls an epithet of Christ, and begins with the vocative ‘O …’, giving them the name of ‘O Antiphons’. The texts of the antiphons is the basis for the Advent carol ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel‘. These evenings are often also known as ‘Golden Nights’.

The Sarum Rite, on which much English liturgical tradition is based, begins on 16 December with O Sapientia, ‘O Wisdom’, and the Book of Common Prayer marks the date as such in its calendar (yet provides no other text or instruction).

The official use of the Roman Catholic Church is to start a day after, singing O Sapientia on 17 December, and Common Worship follows that use .

It seems that the Sarum version of eight antiphons from 16 to 23 December was a development of the use of seven antiphons from 17 to 23 December, adding O Virgo Virginum (‘O Virgin of virgins’) to the end of the series. There is a good theological reason to revert to the use of seven antiphons: all seven are addressed to Christ in prophetic epithets, while the additional, eighth antiphon is addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although devotion to Mary right before Christmas is commendable, it does break the unity of the antiphons.

Titles of the ‘O Antiphons’
Latin title English title CW dates Sarum dates
O Sapientia O Wisdom 17 Dec. 16 Dec.
O Adonai O Lord 18 Dec. 17 Dec.
O Radix Jesse O Root of Jesse 19 Dec. 18 Dec.
O Clavis David O Key of David 20 Dec. 19 Dec.
O Oriens O Dayspring, O Morning Star 21 Dec. 20 Dec.
O Rex Gentium O King of the Nations 22 Dec. 21 Dec.
O Emmanuel O God with Us 23 Dec. 22 Dec.
O Virgo Virginum O Virgin of Virgins 23 Dec.

Some traditions added another antiphon O Gabriel, while some had O Thoma Didyme for the feast of St Thomas on 21 December instead of it. That brought the number to nine antiphons, and it was natural some would expand the series to the biblical twelve, adding O Rex Pacifice ‘O King of Peace’, O Mundi Domina ‘O Mistress of the World’ and O Hierusalem ‘O Jerusalem’, and beginning on 12 December, the eve of St Lucy. The New English Hymnal provides the plainsong music for the antiphons (NEH 503, with the chant for Magnificat at 504).

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Carols from Hertford College, Oxford

nine-lessonsking-carols

We have ended term in Hertford College, Oxford, with joyous song and a couple of carol services. We squeeze Advent and Christmas into the last week of term, even though it is still November. For your edification and jubilation, here is a sample recording of five modern carols performed by Hertford College Chapel Choir.

  1. Gardner Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
  2. Whitacre Lux aurumque
  3. Allain In the bleak mid-winter (world première)
  4. Sandström Det är en ros utsprungen
  5. Leighton Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child

 


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Below is a copy of the letter I sent to the students and staff of my college on the evening of Tuesday 20 November 2012 after the General Synod of the Church of England had failed to garner support for a measure that would lead to women being ordained bishops. It is somewhat emotional, but I dearly want to clarify that the church is not a sexist organisation and that this is just a temporary failure for sexual equality in the church.

Dear all,

It is with sadness I write to you to share the news that the General
Synod of the Church of England has voted against ordaining women as
bishops.

I am a supporter of women’s ministry at all levels in the church, and
there are now slightly more women than men being ordained as deacons and
priests each year.

The vote at Synod was always going to be close as the Synod voted by
houses — bishops, clergy and laypeople — with each house having to vote
in favour by 2/3. The bishops voted 94% in favour, the clergy by 77% and
the laity by 64%. Thus, it failed to reach the required 2/3 by 6 votes
among elected laypeople on the General Synod. At an earlier stage, 42 of
the 44 dioceses of the Church of England voted in favour of women
bishops (including Oxford).

The media is bound to buzz with stories of the church being bigoted, but
the figures speak differently. In fact, some who voted against are in
favour of women bishops but against this piece of legislation because it
would have allowed those against women bishops to demand a man bishop in
way that could undermine the authority of women bishops. I didn’t think
the legislation was perfect, but I, and many, felt that the time had
come to vote for women bishops and live through the issues it raises.

Unfortunately, it may now be a matter of years before the church is
able to begin a new legislative process to ordain women as bishops. But
it will come in the end: the vast majority are in favour.

I do feel ashamed to be a Church of England priest this evening, as do most
of my brother and sister priests.

Best wishes,

Gareth.