From the Altar Guild: The Symbolism of the Cope in the Advent Blue Set Week IV

December 24, 2012 Comments Off on From the Altar Guild: The Symbolism of the Cope in the Advent Blue Set Week IV

We have made our way to the two last symbols on the Advent Cope. The first of the two is a crown for Emanuel, the last is a star for the Virgin Mary. 

 A crown has long been a symbol of royalty. The symbol of a crown on our cope reminds me of a crown from the Crown Jewels of England especially the way the top of the crown arches towards the center.  It also reminds me a bit of the crown on the statue of the Infant of Prague. It is a style of a crown that is used on state occasions as a symbol of the royal persons authority.


 December 23 – O EMANUEL

O come, Emanuel, our king and law-giver, the desire of all nations and their salvation:  come and save us o Lord our God.

 The traditional versions of the O Antiphons would end with this seventh antiphon having begun on the night of December 17th. This would seem appropriate since, with the coming of Emmanuel, the reign of God is begun on earth.

 The Sarum version of the O Antiphons adds an eighth antiphon at the end of the series and begins a day earlier, on the 16th of December.  As you might remember, “Sarum” refers to the customs of the church in Salisbury and have been expanded to mean the use for the church in all of England.  So, our cope is Sarum in its details as we have eight symbols not seven.

 All of the O Antiphons are titles of the Christ as found in the prophets of the Old Testament, yet this last antiphon is not addressed to Jesus but to the Virgin Mary.

 December 24 – O VIRGO VIRGINUM

 O Virgin of virgin, how shall this be?  For neither before you was any like you, nor shall there be after.  Daughters of Hierusalem, why do you marvel at me?  The thing which you behold is a divine mystery.

 I have found no reason why this one antiphon is so different from the other seven. The mystery of its creation seems to be lost to history. One commentator did offer that the English church before the Reformation was so devoted to the Virgin that it only seems appropriate that the O Antiphons as they were used in England should have one addressed to the Virgin. England was often referred to as “The Virgin’s Dowry” for its many churches dedicated to Mary.

 The symbol for this antiphon is a star. In the Christian West, we usually see the Virgin crowned with the twelve stars of Revelation Chapter 12 but in the Christian East the star is a popular symbol of the Virgin.  I found this explanation of stars in icons of Mary from Orthodox Wiki:

 There are three golden stars: one on the forehead and one on each shoulder of the Most Holy Theotokos. These stars are symbols of her virginity. She was a virgin before, a virgin during, and a virgin after the Nativity of Christ. The three stars are also a symbol of the Holy Trinity. Sometimes the third star is covered by the figure of the Christ Child, the second person of the Holy Trinity.


We have an example of these stars right here at St Luke’s in our own icon of Our Lady of the Sign.


 As John Bradley wrote is his fascinating reflection on the text of the Antiphons:

 The first letter of each Antiphon after the “O” creates a reverse acrostic so that, beginning with the last antiphon and working backward to the beginning – even more symbolism – it spells in Latin: Ero Cras: Tomorrow I come.

But with O Virgo virginum this becomes ‘Vero Cras’, ‘Truly, tomorrow’.

– Sean Scheller

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