The liturgy is filled with implications that we too often fail fully to appreciate. So it is worth meditating upon the liturgy of the Church, and praying that we may gain a fuller view of what it is teaching us. Through the Church's liturgical tradition, there is always more that God would show us of His wondrous love for us in Christ. Let us recall that while the liturgy as such is not divinely inspired, it is filled with God's creative Word. And so Saint Benedict calls it the Work of God. It is fitting to pray, in other words, that God would open our eyes, that we may see the wondrous things in the liturgy (Ps 119).
And so one thought that strikes me lately is in regard to the increased popularity in recent years of the O Antiphons, that is, the proper Magnificat antiphons for the seven days that lead up to the holy Vigil of Christmas. It is a fine custom to celebrate the Divine Office of Vespers, and to use these venerable antiphons; yet it is valuable to consider what the Divine Office, and in this case particularly the O Antiphons, might be assuming about our liturgical life. What is assumed in the Divine Office, including the O Antiphons, and indeed is an essential key to fully appreciating the Office, and the Antiphons, is the regular celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
In the final week before Christmas Eve, the Church focuses more intently on preparing for the coming celebration of the birth of the Theanthropos, the God-man, and does so, for example, by praying for His advent among us in the Magnificat antiphons, each one calling Him by a different name, and crying out for His presence. Veni, Come. Christ's coming in the world is always an intersecting of this world and the cosmic reality wherein Christ holds all of creation, and all of history, in His hand. Interestingly, we have come to view the final coming of Christ as a parousia, which connotes for many a glorious coming of Christ on the last day, but really it would be better to convert our thinking around, and see that in fact every coming of Christ is a parousia, a making Himself personally present in this world, which is a gracious and comforting presence for those buried by baptism into His death, and fearfully damning to those not ready for it. He comes to judge, but for the Christian covered by the blood of the Lamb that judgement is a gracious sentence. He came into the world about two millennia ago, assuming our human nature, and became man. He will also come again in glory at the close of this world. However, there is another coming of Christ. Namely, His coming, in the flesh, in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, in which the Christian is united with Him sacramentally. This also is Christ's Parousia among us. This, the celebration of the venerable Eucharist, is the fulfillment among us, in real time, of the prophecy that Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. Indeed, the seventh of the O Antiphons calls upon Christ as Emmanuel.
It is well worth meditating upon the O Antiphons in detail, but it is also worth stepping back, and gaining an appreciation for what we are confessing in them when viewed together. This comes out more clearly when they are read in the Latin. For there we see that the O Antiphons are designed in such a way so that the first letter (after the O) of each antiphon is part of an acrostic, read backwards, which spells Ero Cras, Tomorrow I shall come. Admittedly, for those who follow the English medieval custom of adding an eighth antiphon in honor of the Virgin Mary, the acrostic will spell Vero Cras, Truly tomorrow, which is only slightly different. What is this but a confession that on Christmas, which is fast upon us, the Church celebrates the solemn and joyful mystery of the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ among us. All that we ask for in the O Antiphons comes about in the celebration of the Christmas Mass. Christ, our Wisdom incarnate, comes to teach us what we need to know of Him. Christ, the Adonai, comes to us, that is, our Redemption draws near, the One Who saves us by stretching out His arms on the cross and bringing the fruit of His suffering to us. Christ, the Root of Jesse, Who has become for us the tree of life, comes to deliver us. Christ, the Key of David, comes in apocalyptic authority, and opens the kingdom of heaven to us right here and now. Christ, the Dayspring, comes and enlightens the darkness of our hearts with His good gifts. Christ, the King, comes to bring salvation to us. And indeed, Christ, our Emmanuel, proves Himself to be God Who is there for us. He is with us. All of this is fulfilled in the Holy Mass, where we hear our Shepherd's voice, and are united with Him personally in the most venerable Eucharist.
There are Lutheran churches that confess these things, with the revival of the O Antiphons, and yet will not have the Sacrament on Christmas because it falls on a non-communion Sunday. The praying of the O Antiphons, like the praying of the Divine Office in general, assumes and can only be fully appreciated in light of the regular and frequent celebration of the Holy Mass. We implore Christ to come to us. And this is not a hopeless cry, but a cry of faith, for all the while we are also confessing that He will come to us. And then He does. Let us not make of the liturgy a lie, but a confession of the true vitality of the sacramental life of our church.