Day 5: O Oriens (O Rising Sun)

Tonight’s O Antiphon is “O Oriens.”  The Latin word “Oriens” literally means “Dawn,” “Rising Sun,” or “East.”  The “O Oriens” prophesy comes from Isaiah 9:1-7,

Holman Hunt,
Christ the Light of the World (1854)

But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zeb’ulun and the land of Naph’tali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.  

Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased its joy; they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as on the day of Mid’ian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
So the coming Messiah will arrive as a Child, will be associated with Galilee, and His Advent will be like the dawn breaking forth.  And this, of course, is exactly how the New Testament describes Christ.  Zechariah prophesies that his son, John the Baptist, will be a forerunner for the Messiah, proclaiming  (Luke 1:76-79),
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,  to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

And St. John’s Gospel is quite clear on this identification of Christ (John 1:5-9):

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.

But the clearest identification with Isaiah 9 is when Matthew explicitly tells us that Christ fulfills this prophesy (Mt. 4:12-16):

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Caper’na-um by the sea, in the territory of Zeb’ulun and Naph’tali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zeb’ulun and the land of Naph’tali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

By the way, this depiction of Christ as Oriens is also why Catholic churches historically face east: ad orientum.  It’s from building churches to face towards the East, towards the Oriens, that we get the word “orientation.”

The traditional Latin Antiphon is:

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris,

et umbra mortis.

Which means, in English:

O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light,
Son of justice,
Come to give light to them that sit in darkness,
 and in the shadow of death!

It corresponds to the sixth verse from O Come, O Come Emmanuel:
O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night

and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

And the English version used in the Antiphon today:

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.

And finally, here are the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars in Oxford singing the Latin plainchant:

2 Comments

  1. Thanks again for the Antiphons lesson, and the lovely link to the Blackfriars.

    Just wanted to share that in addition to orienting our churches east, we also orient our departed brothers and sisters.

    The Roman Rituale says that lay persons ought to be buried with their feet facing east. Priests ought to be buried with their heads facing east.

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