Derek Olsen writes:
“A curious entry appears in the December liturgical calendar of English Books of Common Prayer. The year 1561 brought an influx of minor saints from the Roman cycle back into the calendar of the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer by way of the Latin Book of Common Prayer used in college chapels—places where Latin was expected to be “a tongue understanded of the people.” But among this number came an entry that was not the name of a saint or martyr. December 16th bears the legend: O Sapienta—O Wisdom. Formally ratified by its inclusion in the calendar of the 1662 Prayer Book—still the official prayer-book of the Church of England and often considered the liturgical norm for the Anglican Communion—this entry holds an indisputable place in our history grounding the “O” Antiphons in the Anglican tradition although they have never yet appeared in an authorized prayer book. The Roman Catholic Church has retained these antiphons as well, but their course begins on December 17th—meaning that the Anglican tradition retains an antiphon no longer used by Rome. Ironically, the missing antiphon is the one addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary. …
Each antiphon begins with a metaphor, a title for Christ, most evoking not just a passage but whole swathes of Scripture. This metaphor is expanded by ancillary images and references that add depth and dimension to the Scriptural stories. Last, an imperative beseeches Christ to come and liberate us from sin, death, and darkness. As we take the words and images of the prophets in our mouths, we join their cry for the coming of the babe of Bethlehem. And speaking our own future, we call for the Coming King who will consummate the redemption of all creation. And—furthermore—we cry Christ into our own hearts, asking that the birth of the divine child be not only in history of distant days or future consummation but that we see, we experience, his redemptive resurrection power in our own flesh.”
(the links in the following Antiphon texts refer to last year’s posts with videos of the sung antiphon in Latin)
Dec 16th (17th): O Sapientia, (Wisdom) that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end [of the heavens] to another, and dost mightily and sweetly order all things: come to teach us the way of prudence!
Dec 17th (18th): O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai: come to redeem us with outstretched arm!
Dec 18th (19th): O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), which standest for an ensign of the people, at whom the kings shall shut their mouths, unto whom the Gentiles shall seek: come to deliver us, make no tarrying!
Dec 19th (20th): O Clavis David (Key of David) and Sceptre of the house of Israel; that openest and no man shutteth; and shuttest and no man openeth: come to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death!
Dec 20th (21st): O Oriens (Day-spring), Brightness of the everlasting Light, Sun of Righteousness: come to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death!
Dec 21st (22nd): O Rex Gentium (King of the Gentiles), yea, and Desire thereof, O Cornerstone that makest of twain one: come to save man, whom Thou hast made of the dust of the earth!
Dec 22nd (23rd): O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and Salvation thereof: come to save us, O Lord our God!
Dec 23rd ( –): O Virgo Virginum (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.*
* English texts from The Roman Breviary, translated by John, Marquis of Bute (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1908), p. 244
… and here is a beautiful rendering of O Virgo Virginum: