WDTPRS The O Antiphons: 21 December – O Oriens – Winter Solstice

LATIN: O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol iustitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis.

ENGLISH: O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Scripture Reference:

Luke 1:78, 79
Malachi 4:2

Relevant verse of  Veni, Veni Emmanuel:

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

We are all desperately in need of a Savior, a Redeemer who is capable of ransoming from the darkness of our sins and from the blinding and numbing wound of ignorance from which we all suffer.  In their terrible Fall, our First Parents inflicted grave wounds in the souls of every person who would live after them, except of course – by an act of singular grace – the Mother of God.  Our wills are damaged.  Our intellect is clouded.  In Christ we have the Truth, the sure foundation of what is lasting.  All else, apart from Him fails and fades into dark obscurity.  He brings clarity and light back to our souls when we are baptized or when we return to Him through the sacrament of penance.

At Holy Mass of the ancient Church, Christians would face “East”, at least symbolically, so that they could greet the Coming of the Savior, both in the consecration of the bread and wine and in the expectation of the glorious return of the King of Glory.  They turned to the rising sun who is Justice Itself, whose light will lay bare the truth of our every word, thought and deed in the Final Day.

This is the Solstice day, for the Northern Hemisphere the day which provides us with the least daylight of the year.  From this point onward in the globe’s majestic arc about the sun, we of the north, benefit from increasing warmth and illumination.  It is as if God in His Wisdom, provided within the framework of the cosmos object lessons by which we might come to grasp something of His good plan for our salvation.

Let us turn to the LIGHT, repent our evil ways and habits, and grasp onto Christ in His Holy Church, for as we read in Scripture:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.”

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One Response to WDTPRS The O Antiphons: 21 December – O Oriens – Winter Solstice

  1. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Belated thanks for this year’s ‘O Antiphon’ posts!

    To add smaller but delightful things to great – and ones that point and lead to great, as well:

    the Exeter Book manuscript includes wonderful Old English poetic paraphrases of, and reflections on, some of these antiphons (and related gems of unknown ‘source’ – if sources they have in the same sense), which scholars traditionally treated as the first part of the poem “Crist” [Christ] attributed to Cynewulf. The Wikipedia article, “Christ I” includes a link to Charles W. Kennedy’s modern translation of these (and more). And the Internet Archive has several handy or inviting books: Israel Gollancz’s 1892 edition and free translation, Cynewulf’s Christ: An Eighth Century English Epic (the Toronto scan is a clear one), A.S. Cook’s 1909 second impression of his 1899 edition, The Christ of Cynewulf (which is the first to pay detailed attention to the relation of poems to antiphons), and the published 1921 doctoral dissertation of Edward Burgert, O.S.B., The Dependence of Part I of Cynewulf’s Christ on the Antiphonary.

    If this were not delight enough, in 1913 or so, the young J.R.R. Tolkien was particularly struck by the poem based on “O Oriens”, which begins “éala éarendel engla beorhtast”, “éala” being ‘O’ as more expression of wonder than vocative, “engla beorhtast” being “of angels brightest” and “Earendel” being a very unusual name which fascinated him. He explained more than 50 years later (Letters, no. 297) that he took it that the Anglo-Saxon “uses seem plainly to indicate that it was a star presaging the dawn [...]: that is what we now call Venus”. In the Blicking Homilies he notes it is used of St. John the Baptist and he thinks that is how it is (unusually varying the beginning of “O Oriens”) used in the poem: “The lines refer to a herald, and divine messenger, clearly not [...] Christ” – though the poem soon goes on to follow the antiphon in clearly referring to Christ as well. So struck was he by this use of Earendel that in September 1914 he wrote a poem about him – which his son Christopher calls “the first poem of the mythology” (The Book of Lost Tales Part II, in which he publishes it) and of which his biographer, Humphrey Carpenter says, “It was in fact the beginning of Tolkien’s own mythology.” In the letter quoted, Tolkien goes on to say, that the use of Earendel in Anglo-Saxon “Christian symbolism as the herald of the rise of the true Sun in Christ is completely alien to my use.” But Professor T.A. Shippey seemed not convinced and made an interesting case as to how Tolkien’s Earendil could be something very like just that in his book, The Road to Middle-Earth (1982). In any case, it is delightful to think that a, perhaps indeed the, first seed of the great ‘tree’ of all Tolkien’s imaginative work is a medieval poetic translation (though the opposite of a “slavishly accurate” one) of that liturgical jewel, “O Oriens”.