Tuesday, December 17, 2013

O Adonai (December 17)

Tonight, the Great "O" Antiphon sung at Vespers before and after the Magnificat is O Adonai:

O Adonai and Leader of the house of Israel, who appearedst in the Bush of Moses in a flame of fire, and gavest him the law in Sinai: Come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.

Here's a video of the antiphon sung in English, from the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastic order in Cambridge, MA; there's a discussion of the antiphon after it's sung.

Below is a Latin version of the Magnificat itself:

The text of the Magnificat comes from Luke 1;  here are the words to the original Latin and the modern English (US BCP 1979) versions of this beautiful canticle, so that you can sing along if you wish.

Magnificat: anima mea Dominum.
Et exultavit spiritus meus: in Deo salutari meo.
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae:
ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est:
et sanctum nomen eius.
Et misericordia eius, a progenie et progenies:
timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam in brachio suo:
dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede:
et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis:
et divites dimisit inanes.
Suscepit Israel puerum suum:
recordatus misericordiae suae.
Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros:
Abraham, et semini eius in saecula.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

If you'd like to pray the whole office of Vespers, you can do it at St. Bede's Breviary; choose "Amplified Prayer Book" under "Style" to get the "O's".

Here is is a good longish article about these antiphons, and some other related ones.

About the word Adonai ('literally "my Lord," the plural form of Adon, that is, "Lord" or "Lordship"'), from the Jewish Encyclopedia:
This word occurs in the Masoretic text 315 times by the side of the Tetragram YHWH (310 times preceding and five times succeeding it) and 134 times without it. Originally an appellation of God, the word became a definite title, and when the Tetragram became too holy for utterance Adonai was substituted for it, so that, as a rule, the name written YHWH receives the points of Adonai and is read Adonai, except in cases where Adonai precedes or succeeds it in the text, when it is read Elohim....The translation of YHWH by the word Lord in the King James's and in other versions is due to the traditional reading of the Tetragrammaton as Adonai, and this can be traced to the oldest translation of the Bible, the Septuagint. About the pronunciation of the Shem ha-Meforash, the "distinctive name" YHWH, there is no authentic information. In the early period of the Second Temple the Name was still in common use, as may be learned from such proper names as Jehohanan, or from liturgical formulas, such as Halelu-Yah. At the beginning of the Hellenistic era, however, the use of the Name was reserved for the Temple.


Pronunciation of the Name by the Temple priests also gradually fell into disuse. Tosef., Soṭah, xiii. 8, quoted Menaḥot, 109b, and Yoma, 39b, relates that "from the time Simon the Just died [this is the traditional expression for the beginning of the Hellenistic period], the priests refrained from blessing the people with the Name"—in other words, they pronounced it indistinctly, or they mouthed or mumbled it. Thus says Tosef., Ber. vi. 23: Formerly they used to greet each other with the Ineffable Name; when the time of the decline of the study of the Law came, the elders mumbled the Name. Subsequently also the solemn utterance of the Name by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, that ought to have been heard by the priests and the people, according to the Mishnah Yoma, vi. 2, became inaudible or indistinct.

....the Greek translators of the Bible, even though some scribe might now and then write the Tetragrammaton in the archaic Hebrew form on the margin, Π I Π I, as found by Origen (see facsimile attached to article Aquila), took great care to render the name Π I Π I regularly Κυριός, Lord, as if they knew of no other reading but Adonai. Translations dependent upon the Septuagint have the same reading of the Name. Not from "superstitious fear" or misapplication of the third command of the Decalogue or of Lev. xxiv. 11, but from a reverential feeling that the Name ought not to be pronounced except with consecrated lips and to consecrated ears, the substitute "Lord" came into use. Yet this simple measure, introduced to guard the Name against profane use, formed one of the most powerful means of securing to the Biblical God the universal character with which He is invested as the Lord of Hosts and the Ruler of men and nations. YHWH, as the God of Israel, might still be taken as a tribal God; The Lord is no longer the God of one people; He is Lord of all the world, the Only One. Compare Name of God, Shem ha-Meforash, and Tetragrammaton.

This is an "O Antiphon" page from the Poissy Antiphonal (1335-45); it's got "O Sapientia," "O Adonai," and "O Radix Jesse" - the first three "O"s:

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