Tuesday, December 17, 2013

O Wisdom . . . .

"O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation in your strong yet tender care.  Come and show your people the way to salvation." (Liturgy of the Hours)

Today at vespers marked the recitation, or chanting, of the first subtle but deeply satisfying sign that The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord is near.  The Magnificat antiphon was the first of the "O Antiphons."
The seven "O Antiphons" introduce the Magnificat from 17 December to 23 December.  An ancient custom in the Roman Church whose history is lost in time, they were in use by the 8th Century though they may have existed somewhat earlier.  The Catholic Encyclopedia describes them as "a mosaic of biblical verses from prophetic and wisdom books."  Each antiphon begins with "O", hence the name.  In Latin they are titled, "O Sapientia" (Wisdom), "O AdonaiI" (Lord), "O Radix Jesse" (Root of Jesse), "O Clavis David" (Key of David), "O Oriens" (Radiant Dawn), "O Rex Gentium" (King of All Nations, and "O Emmanuel" (Literally God-with-us) [Catholic Encyclopedia].  I included the Latin because if one writes the antiphons one per line and then takes the first letter of each one and reads up from Emmanuel to Saptientia one reads a Latin acrostic ERO CRAS that translates as "Tomorrow, I will come." 
The Gospel for today's Mass is the very beginning of Matthew, chapter 1 verses 1 to 17, "The Genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David."  Sometimes called, "the begats" it is one of the most notoriously tongue-twisting of all the Gospel readings (it is a real treat for Jesuits for whom English is a second, third, or later language).  A priest in his first year should not approach this reading cold.  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  Many people do eyeball roll when they hear this Gospel reading begin: Great!  A list of names.  So what?  No parable.  No sayings.  No nothing except for a long list of names."  Consider also that David is familiar but Amminadab is not.
The answer to the reason for this Gospel is made apparent in the letter by St. Leo the Great, pope in the second reading in the Office of Readings for 17 December.  It is worth quoting at some length.  "Matthew's genealogy begins by setting out the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham, and then traces his human descent by bringing his ancestral line down to his mother's husband, Joseph.  On the other hand, Luke traces his parentage backward step by step to the actual father of mankind to show that both the first and the last Adam share the same nature."  A bit later in the same letter one reads, ". . . unless the new man, by being made in the likeness of sinful humanity, had taken on himself the nature of our first parents, unless he had stooped to be one in substance, and, being alone free from sin, united our nature to his, the whole human race would still be held captive under the dominion of Satan."
The two genealogies have only a handful of names in common.  Not exactly the sort of thing Mormon genealogists would approve of, but they say the same thing in different voice:  Jesus is fully God and fully Man.  That he took on the cloak of human nature is the greatest love story that has ever been or ever will be told. 
"O Wisdom, O holy Word of God . . . Come and show your people the way to salvation." 
Only one photo.  It is worth some meditation time.  It is a detail of the large Salve window at St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, MA.  I took it in the final days of the splendid vow retreat I made there at the end of September.  The Salve Regina is the final prayer of the Church's day.  At Spencer the men face the window at the end of compline.  All of the lights are turned off.  The window is lit from behind.  They chant the Salve and then approach the abbot for his blessing before going to their cells.  The great silence begins with the Salve.   Here at Campion we have the custom at funerals of bringing the man's coffin into the center of the rotunda.  When all have gathered around we chant the Salve Regina in Latin.  It is always deeply moving, as it will be on Thursday morning at the conclusion of the funeral of Fr. Al Agresti, SJ.  

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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