Saturday, December 21, 2013

O Rex Gentium (December 21)

Anglicans sing O Rex Gentium ("O King of the Nations") tonight at Vespers 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.

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.

Interesting, I think, that Christ's title here is at once "King of Nations," and also "their Desire" - and that he is the cornerstone who integrates them into one thing.   This is the same idea you find in Psalm 119: "O Lord, how I love Thy Law!"  It says that the ultimate of end of faith is to love and desire God's Rule; this King does not lay burdens on His people, but comes to heal and to fulfill.  A small phrase that does a lot of work; it's really a succinct statement of the belief that Creation is good - but fallen.  

The "cornerstone" referred to here 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.”

Below is a Latin version of the Magnificat itself:

Here are the Latin and modern English (US BCP 1979) versions of the beautiful Magnificat, 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".

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