In the Divine Office and Our Lady’s Office, the antiphons sort of pave the way or prepare our Christological understanding of the Psalms or Canticles which are to be sung or recited. Advent is a time of preparation to welcome the Light of the world and really is a penitential season; and one of the ways to prepare or welcome the Light is to willingly expose our own darkness in the Sacrament of Confession.
For those who pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the season of Advent closes at the hour of None; and there a most fitting antiphon for closing Advent and preparing for Christmas appears: “Ecce ancilla Domini: fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum – Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done unto me according to Your word.” It was Mary’s “yes” to God, yes to welcoming the Word of God as a Baby. This is a beautiful thought to close out Advent and begin Christmas.
Christmas begins with Vespers on Christmas Eve. The first antiphon at Vespers of Our Lady is: “O admirabile commercium: Creator generis humani, animatum corpus sumens, de Virgine nasci dignatus est; et procedens homo sine semine, largitus est nobis suam Deitatem – O marvelous intercourse! The Creator of mankind, taking a body with a living soul, vouchsafed to be born of a Virgin, and becoming man without man’s concurrence, bestowed upon us His Deity.” And so this momentous day of eternal value begins: the Light enters the world through a Virgin. And certainly this antiphon is reflected in the words of the Psalm which follows: “Ex utero ante luciferum genui te -- From the womb before the daystar have I begotten You” (Psalm 109:3).
The second antiphon is: “Quando natus es ineffabiliter ex Virgine, tunc impletæ sunt Scripturæ: sicut pluvia in vellus descendisti, ut salvum faceres genus humanum: te laudamus, Deus noster – When You were born of a Virgin, after an ineffable manner, then were the Scriptures fulfilled: You came like rain upon the fleece, that You might save mankind: we praise You, our God.” We praise God for coming to us as a Baby in order that He might experience all the circumstances that are part of being human; and in doing so, He will save mankind. In the Psalm which follows, we pray the words: “Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster, qui in altis habitat: et humilia respicit in cælo et in terra – Who is like unto the Lord our God, Who dwells on High: and regards the things that are lowly in heaven and in earth” (Psalm 112:5-6).
The third antiphon is: “Rubum, quem viderat Moyses incombustum, conservatam agnovimus tuam laudabilem virginitatem: Dei Genetrix, intercede pro nobis – In the bush which Moses saw unconsumed, we acknowledge your admirable virginity preserved: Mother of God, intercede for us.” An Old Testament story is given to us to show us the prefigurement of Mary and her spotless, Immaculate self. She is the “domum Domini -- house of the Lord” which is mentioned in Psalm 121 that follows this antiphon. He Who cannot be contained, chose to be contained in her. He Who is spotless, dwelled in a spotless “house”.
The fourth antiphon is: “Germinavit radix Iesse, orta est stella Iacob: Virgo peperit Salvatorem: te laudamus, Deus noster – The root of Jesse has budded, a star has risen out of Jacob; a Virgin has borne the Savior: we praise You, our God.” This antiphon is soaked with Christmas images: the root of Jesse, David’s father, from that lineage the Savior would come, born of a Virgin. Psalm 126 follows with these words: “Nisi Dominus ædificaverit domum: in vanum laboraverunt qui ædificant eam – Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 126 :1). God built the house in which He would dwell before entering into the world. He built it in order that this house would be a fitting dwelling-place for Him, one that is Immaculate. Mary is the new Ark of the Lord.
The fifth antiphon is: “Ecce, Maria genuit nobis Salvatorem, quem Ioannes videns exclamavit, dicens: Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce, qui tollit peccati mundi, alleluia – Behold, Mary has borne us the Savior, Who John beholding, exclaimed, Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world, alleluia.” Christmas celebrates the birth of the Savior and in this antiphon we learn something of His future as the Lamb of God Who will take away our sins, the Light overcoming the darkness. Psalm 147 follows in which “Jerusalem” mystically represents the Church: “He has blessed the children within you, He has made peace within your borders” (Psalm 147:1-2).
The final antiphon appearing in Vespers of Our Lady for Christmastide is the antiphon for the Magnificat: “Magnum hereditatis mysterium: templum Dei factus est uterus nescientis virum: non est pollutus ex ea carnem assumens; omnes gentes venient, dicentes: Gloria tibi, Domine – A great mystery of inheritance: the womb of one that knew not man has become the temple of God; taking flesh of her He was not defiled; all nations shall come saying, Glory be to You, Lord.”
Let us all try to catch something of these immense thoughts. Let us prepare well to receive our Savior! A Merry Christmas to all!