Sunday, December 23, 2007

O Virgo Virginum

The medieval breviary in the Sarum use (but not in the Roman) prescribed the antiphon "O Virgo Virginum" as antiphon upon the Magnificat for December 23:

O Virgin of Virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.


Here's an interesting thing, though! In previous years, I've created the chant score from another of the "O"s, pointing out the words as I could only imagine it was done. But I remembered I'd once seen the chant score on another site (and I think posted it here at some point) - and I found it again this year. It's here, on a page devoted to Mary at the website of the University of Dayton (which lives at the website of a group called The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute ); the source is given as "From Processionale Praemonstratensis, 1932."




Here's something from that page:
Most authors agree that there were seven original 'O Antiphons' and that they are a very ancient expression of Christian Prayer. While their author is unknown, they are cited in at least two works as early as the eighth century. Both Cynewulf, an Anglo-Saxon author, and Amalarius, a liturgist and the Archbishop of Trier (d. 850), who was a student of the teacher Alcuin, cite the existence of the 'O Antiphons' as early as the seventh/eighth century.

The 'O Antiphons' get their name from the fact that they all begin with the interjection 'O': O Sapientia (Wisdom); O Adonai (Lord); O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse); O Clavis David (Key of David); O Oriens (Dawn of the East); O Rex Gentium (King of Gentiles); O Emmanuel.

While the original 'O Antiphons' numbered seven, over time a number of others were added to the liturgy of particular regions, and sometimes for particular religious feast days which fell during Advent, or even in the liturgy of some medieval religious orders. Some medieval religious churches had as many as twelve O Antiphons which were sung in the Advent Liturgy leading up to Christmas Eve.

Among these, there was an important Marian 'O Antiphon' which appears in both the Gallican (France) and Saerum (England) liturgies. Although it is difficult to establish just when this antiphon was first introduced, it was certainly known in the Middle Ages.

This Marian Antiphon is still used today in the liturgy of the Norbertine Order. While the Latin Liturgy begins the O Antiphons on December 17 with 'O Sapientia,' and ends on December 23 with 'O Emmanuel,' the Liturgy of the Norbertine Order beings their O Antiphons on December 16 with 'O Sapientia,' and ends on December 23 with the beautiful Marian Antiphon 'O Virgo Virginum.'


So, a little more history. No sound file for this one, because the only group I know of that still sings this (aside from the aforementioned Norbertine Order - about which of course I will have to do some research!) are Anglican/Episcopal religious - and they are a rare species indeed. I'll post what I learn about the Norbertines - and also whatever I find out about the Processionale Praemonstratensis.

Here's the English-language score to "O Virgin of Virgins," though; the words are very beautiful. And now can sing it yourself, tonight!


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