Category Archives: medieval

O Virgin of virgins

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Yesterday at Evening Prayer we heard the last of the seven traditional antiphons leading up to Christmas.

In medieval England the Church added an eighth antiphon, “O Virgo virginum”, not addressed to the Promised One but to his virgin Mother, in the form of a dialog between the women of Jerusalem and the Virgin Mother: “O Virgin of virgins, how can this be? For neither before thee was any like thee.”  “Ye daughters of Sion, why marvel at me?  The thing ye behold is divine mystery”.

The universal tradition of seven antiphons eventually prevailed, and this eighth antiphon faded into history.

The Christmas Eve antiphon at Evening Prayer today does not have the drama nor the solemnity of the “O” antiphons.  It is like a simple “for your information” statement: “At sunrise you will see the King of kings, coming forth from the Father” (Evening Prayer December 24th).  Maybe this simple statement is the way the Church tells us that no words can adequately describe the stupendous happening, the humble birth of the Promised One, born as one of us.

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