Today, the 17th of December the last week of Advent commences with what is traditionally known as The Greater Ferias of Advent. The word “feria” is a Latin word used in the liturgical calendar to denote a weekday. From time immemorial in our Roman or Latin Rite these last seven days before Christmas have an especially beautiful liturgical character in the prayers and readings of the Mass assigned to each day and in the famous “O Antiphons”. Advent now turns from a meditation on the Second Coming of Christ to one on His first coming as a Child in Bethlehem.
An “antiphon” is a phrase that punctuates or begins and ends a Psalm or Canticle in the Breviary or Liturgy of the Hours: the daily official prayer book of the Catholic Church which is a special responsibility of clerics and religious. In the “hour” of Vespers ( Evening Prayer) Mary’s canticle the Magnificat is always sung or said with an antiphon before and after. In the Vespers of these “Greater Ferias” they are all unique and of a particularly moving and biblical character. They are often called the “O Antiphons” because they begin with what the grammarians might call a “vocative”: “O!” ( as in “O, you kid!”).
Here, of course, they are more solemn and each day uses a biblical title for the Lord. I learned them for the first time in Latin in the former “Prep Seminary” via a Latin pneumonic: S-A-R-C-O-R-E:
Sapientia ( Wisdom)
Adonai ( a rare use of Hebrew meaning Lord)
Radix Jesse ( Root of Jesse)
Clavis David ( Key of David)
Oriens ( Rising Sun)
Rex Gentium ( King of the Nations)
Emmanuel ( Emmanuel)
(As you reading this online, you can find the full texts online as well by any number of search engines or sites. )
The Gospel readings of each Mass give us an almost dramatic “count-down” to Christmas day by day. This is a very good week to prepare the Stable of your soul for His Coming by the Sacrament of Penance and moments of prayer and reflection.
Come, let us adore Him!
December 17, 2011