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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Christmas present

Japanese Mary and Jesus

Japanese Mary and Jesus

Happy Christmas one and all, God bless!

It’s now evening on the feast of St Stephen, the second day of Christmas, and, being a Sunday this year, the end of a long run of Christmas services. This Japanese picture of Mary and Jesus was my Christmas card picture this year. Being interested in the history of Christianity in Asia, I was looking for a similar image to last year’s card.

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Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us

The Holy House, Walsingham

The Holy House, Walsingham

I’ve just returned from pilgrimage to the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk. It was my first visit, and I wasn’t sure how it would be, but am glad to say it was entirely positive.

I first had opportunity to go to Walsingham while at theological college in St Michael’s College, Llandaff. The organisers were a couple of fellow students of the all-too-common pompous and precious branch of Anglo-Catholicism, rank and file Forward in Faith. I didn’t go when offered, knowing these colleagues to be theologically shallow and unpleasant to be around. And that was that: Walsingham remained in my mind associated with an exclusive and unwelcoming sect.

That was thirteen years ago. This time I went to Walsingham with my parish: my vicar and nine parishioners. Walsingham remains a centre for Forward in Faith, a place where Anglicans opposed to the ordination of women can pilgrimage and feel at home. However, there is a substantial section of Anglican Catholics, who might also wish to be described as ‘traditionalists’, who not only fully support the ministry of women, but is led by women priests. It is important that this section of the church continue to be represented at the shrine, stopping it from becoming an exclusive gentlemen’s club.

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Meals with Jesus V: Home cooking at Bethany

This article is the fifth in a series on Meals with Jesus which formed part of this year’s Lent course. This fifth is on the pericope of Mary’s anointing of Jesus, John 12·1–11.

The Anointing by Stephen St. Claire

The Anointing by Stephen St. Claire.

There’s no place like home, and this place offers security, love and comfort in the midst of spiraling tensions in Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps we all got too comfortable, and when the love and friendship overflowed in an attempt to push those fears aside, they came right back in with fears and hates expressed by one thought to be a friend.

This house in Bethany — the House of the Lord’s Grace — is the place of Jesus’ greatest victory, raising Lazarus from the dead. Here the Pharisees would only point and whisper, not confront and condemn.

It had been a long journey, with little comfort, so reclining on cushions around a table laden with food, surrounded by friends, was a joy. We were looking forward to celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem, but there were fears of what it might bring.

We smelt it first, as Mary came in with the box after dinner. We didn’t know that scent, but it was Matthew Levi or Judas Iscariot who, in hushed tones, told us of this precious Indian plant. We shifted on our cushions, cleared our throats and examined the patterned cloth that covered the dining table. We couldn’t watch this embarrassing display, and Jesus’ accepting of it. We wished someone would say something.

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Meals with Jesus I: The Wrong Wedding?

This article is the first of a series on Meals with Jesus which formed part of this year’s Lent course. This first is on the pericope of the Wedding at Cana, John 2·1–11.

Water into wine

Jesus turning water into wine. Mosaic from the exonarthex of the Chora Church (Kariye Camii), İstanbul.

Let us begin at the end!

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.”

That could mean Tuesday, but it doesn’t. It means Sunday: Easter Sunday, the third day when our Lord was risen! And so we begin at the end, for the end is the beginning, a new beginning. But shouldn’t the wedding be the happy-ever-after at the end? Whose wedding is it? Even that’s the wrong way round: invitations are usually sent before the wedding feast, not after it. We’re told the name of the groom in chapter three, and, as for the bride, try the next chapter.

This wedding at Cana seems all wrong; it’s one big question mark. It’s odd how we hear of a miracle of transmutating liquids and find that easier to cope with and understand than the grand narrative that this unsettling gospel is unfolding for us.

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The birth of Jesus according to the Qur’an

In Islam, Jesus (‘Isa عيسى) is an honoured prophet. Qur’an 19 — Suratu Maryam سورة مريم, the Chapter of Mary — begins with the story of Zechariah (Zakariyya زكريا) being promised that he and his barren wife will have a son, to be called John (Yahya يحيى), and he is struck dumb for three nights as a sign of the promise. Although Zechariah is not described as a Jewish priest, it said that he comes out of the sanctuary (mihrab محراب) after his prayer.Mary (Maryam مريم) is introduced in verse 16, where we are told nothing of her apart from that she leaves her family and goes to an ‘eastern place’ away from them. God sends an angel to her, popularly understood to be Gabriel (Jibra’il جبرائيل), although the Qur’an describes him simply as ‘Our Spirit’ (Ruhana روحنا). Mary is a virgin, and the Qur’an agrees with the Gospels that she conceived miraculously by the power of God. The child she is to bear is fortold to be a sign for humanity and a mercy from God (ayatun lin-nasi wa-rahmatun minna اية للناس ورحمة منا).When Mary went into labour she went out into a remote place, and clung to the trunk of a palm tree (an-nakhlah النخلة). The Qur’an records her as crying out in pain that she would rather had died and been forgotten at that moment, giving birth all alone. Then God, out of mercy, made a spring to bubble up beside her and urged her to shake the dates from the tree so that she could be refreshed by them. Continue reading