Expressions of the ineffable, of profound change emerge from our depths whenever startled by birth, death, intimacy with the Sacred, alone, in another, in nature. Such experiences elude words. Only later does our muteness give way to shards, expressed in dance, sculpture, poetry, or music. Withal, our lives are unalterably changed. We have been visited.

 

Such must have been the experience of an anonymous monk around the time of Charlemagne, 742 – 814, when the Divine Office was chanted in monasteries in Western Europe. Latin texts taken from sacred scriptures were floated upon ethereal melodies and incorporated into the life of the praying church. Our nameless monk dipped into the prophet Isaiah and withdrew seven images of the Messiah as deliverer of his people: O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O King of Nations, and O With Us is God. What emerged were the Great O Antiphons or refrains, seven spirit-explosions still chanted before the Magnificat in the hour of Vespers, during the last seven days of Advent. Then as today, we yearn for ultimate freedom from bondage. On our own, we are powerless to affect this.  

 

My heart still leaps whenever I hear the O Antiphons chanted. In 1957 I was a postulant in a religious community and with the choir learned these sacred strains.I still remember those chilly December evenings in Advent when, Libers in hand, wegave full voice to these antiphons standing outside the community room of the professed religious. Our yearning melded within the praying church, a huge experience.

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