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 Day: O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man: Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.
It seems impossible that a leader could reign over all nations as described in Isaiah 2:4: “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” So many suffer the effects of violence in conflict-ridden parts of the world, while here in our own country children are shot to death in schools and movie theaters. With guns sales in the U.S. growing exponentially, hugely outpacing rates in other countries, the image of weapons transformed into tools for agriculture invites deep reflection on what “safety” really means in light of our faith.
The further designation of “keystone of the mighty arch of man” is intriguing, but I have not located a scriptural reference for it. When my children were young, we frequented a museum that offered hands-on activities, one of which was constructing an arch out of soft wedge-shaped blocks that were covered in vinyl. In those days, I was taller than all three of them and therefore placed the keystone piece in its center position. A bit of finesse and teamwork was required to stack either side of the arch toward the center and hold them steady while the final, slightly larger, keystone was placed. And it was pretty cool to let go and watch it stand on its own. The keystone of the arch seems an apt image for a leader who is able to rule over all the nations, judging between them and imposing terms when necessary, but also moving us beyond tensions to genuine flourishing for all. Such a leader would no doubt feel pressure on all sides! Yet the messiah’s presence in the center provides stability and peace. No more weapons or war. For this we long.
Prayer: O King of all the nations, we yearn for a world of peace. Come and be the keystone that holds us together with love.
Photo by pchgorman 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.