Wednesday, December 21, 2011

O Rex Gentium (December 21)

Anglicans sing O Rex Gentium ("O King of the Nations") tonight as the Antiphon upon Magnificat.  (If they're not singing an Antiphon in the honor of St. Thomas, whose feast day it is today, that is.)

O King of Nations, and their Desire; the Cornerstone, who makest both one: Come and save mankind, whom thou formedst of clay.
Below is a Latin version of the Magnificat itself:

The text of the Magnificat comes from Luke 1:
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever."
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".

The "cornerstone" referred to in this antiphon has many Scriptural sources. Likely the first, and very influential, mention is found in Psalm 118:22:
The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone.

Isaiah 28:6 talks, too, of a "cornerstone":
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’

Matthew 21:42 refers back to the Psalm (as do Mark and Luke in their Gospels):
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

The same reference to the Psalm is found in Acts 4:11, as Peter and John talk to the Sanhedrin:
This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.

And Paul harkens back to the Isaiah - but with a Pauline twist, adding in a bit of text from Isaiah 8:14! - in Romans 9:33:
As it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

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