Tonight’s O Antiphon is “O Radix Jesse,” which means “O Root (or Shoot, or Flower) of Jesse.” In other words, the Messiah will come from Jesse’s lineage. We hear this title for the Messiah in Isaiah 11:10: “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.” St. Paul applies this verse to Jesus in Romans 15:12.
But Isaiah 11:10 isn’t the only place we see a reference to the Root of Jesse. A few verses prior, we also see reference to it in Isaiah 11:1-5, the same passage that points to the Messiah as Sapientia (Wisdom) and Adonai (Lord). I personally prefer the Douay-Rheims translation of Isaiah 11:1, which reads, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.”
So the Messiah will be both the Flower of David (or Branch of David) and the Root of David. But how can this be? Jesus points out this paradox Himself, when He spoke about the Messiah’s relationship to David in Mark 12:35-37,
|Christ the True Vine, Greek Icon (16th c.)|
While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:“‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight.
And in Revelation 22:16, we hear:
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
The answer, of course, is found in the Incarnation. St. Luke lays the answer out in the genealogy of Jesus (Lk. 3:23-38), tracing Jesus’ lineage back through Jesse (Lk. 3:31), all the way to Adam, who he describes as the “son of God” (Lk. 3:38). In other words, Jesus is the Creator of Jesse, and of all mankind (John 1:3). In that sense, He’s the Root of Jesse, and the Root of David, and in a certain sense, their Ancestor. But He’s also their Descendant through the Incarnation. He chooses to be born of Mary, who is married to St. Joseph, of the lineage of Jesse and David (see Lk. 3:31 and Mt. 1:5-6). This detail is so important to the understanding of Who Christ Is that it’s the first thing St. Matthew tells us in his Gospel. The first lines we read are: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt. 1:1).
There’s an incredibly beautiful 16th century hymn about this prophesy, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, which means literally, “A Rose has sprung up.” Protestants purged the parts about Mary, leaving us with a still beautiful hymn, Lo, How a Rose E’er blooming. You can listen to the traditional version here, or Sufjan Stephen’s rendition here. And you can find the lyrics to both versions here.
The traditional Latin Antiphon is:
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,super quem continebunt reges os suum,quem gentes deprecabuntur:veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
Which means, in English:
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an Ensign of the people,
At Whom the kings shall shut their mouths,
Whom the Gentiles shall seek,
Come to deliver us, do not tarry.
O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
O Flower of Jesse’s stem,you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.
And finally, here are the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars in Oxford singing the Latin plainchant: