O Wisdom, which camest out of the mouth of the Most High, and reachest from one end to another,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.
Divine Worship: The Missal
‘As if to underline our longing for the coming of the Saviour, and the fact that the Feast of the Nativity is now not far away, the Church has for many centuries prescribed a series of antiphons to be recited before and after the Magnificat at the evening office. These ‘Great O’ antiphons are cries from the heart expressing an earnest yearning for Christ. In temperament they contrast with the text of the Magnificat itself but complement it. The hymn, recorded only in the Gospel of Luke, was sung by Mary at her Visitation with Elizabeth, when the birth of Jesus was still nine months away and, perhaps, the yearning ‘O’ not far from her lips.
Mary gave herself in love to God’s service with this response to Gabriel’s Annunciation: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to thy word.” After only a few days Mary is with Elizabeth and in joy cries out: “He who is mighty has done great things for me.” It is a hymn about God’s doing what we least expect; about how he can turn our values and certainties upside down. It is a song sung in humility, and reflects the Song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel.
The ‘O’ of each antiphon sums up the longing of Israel for the Messiah and for redemption, and consequently our longing that we may ourselves reveal something of the life and love of Christ’.
Geoffrey Rowell, 1943-2017
(Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, 2001-2013)
Fr Lee Kenyon