O Antiphons

Ancient monastics marked the final week of Advent (December 17-23) with a series of traditional antiphons chanted or recited during Vespers, the Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. Referred to as the "O Antiphons", or "The Great Os", each begins with the salutation, "O", followed by a biblical name, and closes with a specific petition for the day.

Growing up, I'd heard the traditional Gregorian chants sung by the religious sisters at the convent of St Ann, one of two convents in our rural mountain town, now both closed (also where I and two of my siblings attended kindergarten). Now, I'm drawn to Arvo Pärt's settings of "Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen", as sung by the Taverner Choir. Even amid the frenzy and hubbub of holiday shopping and celebrating, or perhaps because of it, I find them particularly resonant, falling as they do on the darkest days on either side of winter solstice. Pärt's modern settings are like illuminated Icons: mystical; minimal; personal.

Two years ago I was working in a small Episcopal church in Newton and I created simple slideshows to go with Pärt's antiphons. I posted one each day to my blog there as an aid to prayer in the final week of the Advent season. Technology has changed a bit since then and I've had some trouble cross-posting them here. Had I anticipated this, I would have redone them entirely, as some of the slideshow images are quite fuzzy.

Religious or no, it's important to pause a little each day for meditation and reflection. Giving ears to the tonal contrasts in Pärt's composition is a beautiful way to support doing just that. I've posted three "O" moments to this blog to date; if the technology permits, I'll continue to post an "O" each day through December 23.

We're not all religious; I'm not, particularly. But, perhaps we're all waiting for something to finally celebrate in the deepest darkness of the year.

Blessings & peace as we enter the final days of Advent.