O Adonai

In the final days of Advent, the church’s daily evening prayer includes a short verse, or antiphon, that highlights one of the scriptural names for the messiah.  Each day’s text begins with “O” followed the designated title, traditionally sung in Latin.  From today through Dec. 23, I’ll post a reflection on the day’s O Antiphon, revised and updated from the series I posted in 2010.  More background information on the O Antiphons is found below each day’s post.

Antiphon of the DayO Sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:  Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

6386697855_45ab8765b8Today’s name for the messiah comes from the account in the third chapter of Exodus, where God speaks to Moses in the burning bush.  Such a most wonderful story!  The bush that is not consumed by flames and the voice that tells Moses to remove his shoes because he is standing on holy ground display God’s power, but the rest of the chapter illustrates God’s compassion.  God expresses concern for the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt and states intent to rescue them.  Moses asks God’s name as a way to bolster his own credibility with the Israelites when he tells them what God intends.  The depth and scope of the name God gives, I AM WHO AM, are striking. In Hebrew, this name for God is associated with a verb meaning “I will be,” connecting the name of God with the source of all being as well as connoting God’s complete transcendence.  The four letters YHVH are used to express this personal name of God, because Jewish tradition is not to pronounce God’s name outside the Temple in Jerusalem.  Various titles are used instead.  “Lord” or in Hebrew, “Adonai” is the name for today’s antiphon.

I’m drawn to the word “Adonai” as a name for God, but I’m not sure why.  The term connotes mystery.  Inherently it seems to incorporate both power and compassion, transcendence and indwelling, and though “Lord” is a strongly masculine title, Adonai suggests no gender identity to this non-Hebrew speaker.  I feel both awe and affection for Adonai, and my love of this title has only increased over time.  Earlier this year, I was invited to attend the Torah service on Saturday morning at a nearby synagogue where a friend was chanting one of the scripture passages.  Most of the service was conducted in Hebrew, and “Adonai” was one of the few words that I could understand.  This single familiarity forged a meaningful thread of connection for me.

PrayerO Adonai, awaken us to your power and presence in our midst.  Set free all those bound by violence, grief, and oppression.

Photo by jschumacher via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
About the O Antiphons
Although the exact origin of the O Antiphons is unknown, they seem to have been in use for more than 1,000 years. Most of us are more familiar with singing all these names for Jesus in the complete verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The church’s daily prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office, has mostly been observed by religious communities, especially today in monasteries.  It’s the church’s way of marking the holiness of each part of the day.  Historically, as many as eight “hours” were celebrated during a 24-hour period, but Vatican II emphasized morning and evening prayer for all, not just vowed religious.  The format includes psalms, antiphons, scripture readings, and specific prayers like the Our Father and Magnificat.  At vespers from Dec. 17-23, in early evening, the O Antiphon is recited or sung before the Magnificat.

Perhaps because I love words and enjoy discovering their meanings, the O Antiphons have fascinated me for years though I’ve never prayed them in a communal setting.  I first spent time reading the biblical texts from which the O Antiphons are drawn two years ago for this blog and found it very illuminating.  Taken together they present a mosaic of names for God, disparate pieces joined together creating a beautiful whole that is even richer than the individual antiphons suggest.  My studies of Judaism since I originally undertook this project prompt me to acknowledge that the identification of Hebrew texts with Jesus in no way exhausts their meaning or diminishes their significance for the Jewish faith.
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2 Responses to O Adonai

  1. Pingback: Isn’t It Love? | Poet's Corner

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