From the Altar Guild: The Symbolism of the Cope in the Advent Blue Set
December 3, 2012 § 2 Comments
We have been amazingly blessed at St Luke’s. One of these blessings is the vast array of vestments that we use during the liturgical seasons of the church year: we have our gold set for the Christmas season (our former rector used to call it the samurai set), we have the blue and white set for Eastertide, and the unbleached linen of our Lenten array, to name a few. Thanks to the talents of Graham French and Roper Shamhart is one of my favorites, our Advent blue set with the artfully done embroidered roses. We use the Advent blue set for only four Sundays so get a look while you can! The cope (a large ceremonial cloak worn at solemn liturgical functions resembling a cloak or mantle) of the Advent blue set is decorated with symbols of the “O Antiphons”.
As the website Fully Homely Divinity says about the O Antiphons:
Traditionally, on the last days of Advent, at the service of Vespers, a series of special texts were added to the beginning and end of the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, which is sung every day at Vespers, or Evening Prayer. Each of these texts, called “antiphons”, begins with the word “O”, so they came to be known as the “Great O Antiphons”.
The St Luke’s sacristy is a trove of tucked away treasures. During one of the altar guild’s clean ups during the year I found a single sheet of paper with print carefully typed on a Selectic 3 typewriter in a protective plastic cover that had written across the top:
THE SYMBOLISM OF THE ADVENT COPE
What a find! Here is the introduction at the top of the paper and the texts of the first two O Antiphons
“The GREAT O ANTIPHONS date from the 9th century and are sung at the Magnificat at Vespers on the even of each of the 8 days before Christmas, being December 17 (referred to as O SAPIENT), 18, 19, 2, 21, 22, 23, and 24. Since Vespers, the sixth of the seven canonical hours, occur after sun-down it is, in effect, the first prayer service of the next day. Although there is an antiphon proper for the 21st, O REX GENTIUM, with text similar to that for the 23rd, it is general practice that the antiphon for St. Thomas’ Day is substituted since it is the feast of an Apostle.
December 17 – O SAPIENTI
O wisdom which came out of the moth of the most High, and reaches from one end to another, mightily, an sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.
December 18 – O ADONAY
O Adonay, and leader of the house of Israel, who appeared in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gave him the Law of Sinai: Come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.
The symbol used on our cope for the first O Antiphon, “O Sapientia”, is the seven-branched candelabra from the Temple in Jerusalem called a menorah. This is the menorah which stood in the Holy Place in the Temple. We know this because there is an image of it on the Arch of Titus in Rome. The Temple was the place of God’s presence where the faithful came to hear God’s word.
The symbol used for the second O Antiphon “O Adonay” is the burning bush from Exodus where God spoke to Moses through the flame without the bush being consumed. You can still visit the burning bush at St Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai.
Next week we’ll talk about two more of the cope’s symbols. Meanwhile, keep your eye pealed for the beauty and intricacy of this magnificent contribution to our communal spiritual life.
– Sean Scheller