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
December 17, 2012 Comments Off on From the Altar Guild: The Symbolism of the Cope in the Advent Blue Set Week III
So now it’s the third Sunday of Advent the Sunday called Gaudete (Rejoice), as the Lord’s arrival is near. The Church wears rose-colored vestments as a sign of the joy we feel anticipating the birth of the Savior which is to come very soon. At St Luke’s, we wear what we have of a rose set (a chasuble, pulpit fall, burse, veil and our priests wear rose stoles). We also have rose-colored flowers today in the sanctuary.
In our exploration of the symbols on our Advent cope, we are up to the T for St Thomas whose feast day is December 21st and the sun for the remembrance of the Dayspring on December 22nd. .
December 21 – St. Thomas the Apostle – O THOMAS DIDIME
O Thomas Didymus, through Christ who suffered you to touch him, we entreat, you by your prayers for us on high, to aid us in our miseries, lest we be doomed with the lost when the judge appears.
December 21st is the traditional day of the martyrdom of the apostle. Sacred tradition says that Thomas was martyred in Mylapore, India having a spear thrust through him. The Mar Thoma Church of India is the legacy of the ministry of St Thomas. There is a Mar Thoma congregation in New York who used to meet on Sundays afternoon in the undercroft of Church of the Intercession uptown. I was there once as part of a Churches of New York Architecture Tour just after the Mar Toma congregation finished worship and, boy, could they could teach St Luke’s something about the use of incense. It was so smoky and they had finished the service almost 30 minutes before I was there and the undercroft certainly had an aura of sanctity.
I always find it a bit jarring to be thinking of Thomas, who has such a large a role in the Easter narratives, so close to Christmas. I don’t ever remember anyone named Thomas in any of the Christmas stories I have ever read. You know that the doubting Thomas story is the Gospel for the Sunday after Easter every year. Then again, the Thomas story is focused so much on the physicality of the Risen Jesus, when Jesus invites Thomas to reach in and feel his wounds, that it makes such perfect sense, as we get ready to celebrate the mystery of the Word-made-flesh remembering Thomas’ shining hour. Thomas is our reminder that the babe in Bethlehem grows up to be the Risen Jesus in the upper room who is my Lord and my God for us all.
December 22 – O ORIENS
O Dayspring, brightness of light everlasting and sun of righteousness: come and enlighten him who sits in darkness, and the shadow of death.
Dayspring is not a word that we use in everyday speech. I had to look up exactly what dayspring means. It is the time before the dawn when the horizon can be seen and perhaps the outline of some objects. In the liturgical life of the Church, it is the hour of Prime, the first prayers of the day. It is very early in the day and it can be a magical time when the light overtakes the darkness, the rising sun is anticipated well before it is actually seen or the heat of its rays are felt. It is a time of great possibilities, the day has just begun and anything is possible. This brings to my mind the passages from the Gospels that tell of the first Easter Day “after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning” when the women went to the tomb of Jesus. So, once again, so close to Christmas I have Easter on my mind. I always think of Christmas as the miracle in the middle of the night while Easter is the miracle of the dawn.
Last week I told you one of the secrets of the sacristy that we have a purple low mass set for Advent. I remember many years ago the designer and creator of the set, Graham French, telling me that the set was meant for both Advent and Lent since it was purple with silver trim and so was a penitential set since it had no gold.
Next week we will hear about the last two symbols of the Advent cope.
December 10, 2012 § 2 Comments
So now it’s the second week of Advent. I want to talk some about the next two symbols on our Advent cope but first I would like to discuss the color of the cope. You know it’s blue! For many of us the color of Advent is purple but here at St Luke’s the color of Advent is blue. I noticed last week that many had purple on at church on the First Sunday of Advent so I hope no one is disappointed by the lack of purple.
I have always been told that blue vestments in Advent was a Sarum Rite usage so I thought I would check some sources on the use of blue vestments in Advent. I thought it would be an easy task, a fact checking that would take a few minutes. I was wrong. I could find nothing that says blue was the color of Advent in the Sarum. I found lots of rants written by priests of Rome against the use of blue vestments as illegal that makes the Protestant in me so proud that we use blue in Advent. In The Parson’s Handbook written by Percy Dearmer in 1899 (he was rector of the Church of St. Mary, Primrose Hill, London and a great champion of the Anglo-Catholic movement) lists from an inventory of Salisbury Cathedral in 1222 that there were vestments made of “blue silk”. So even in the 13th century someone somewhere was wearing blue vestments.
What does the color blue mean for us? There is a color called royal blue and I would suggest that it is the color of our Advent vestments. As the name suggests, it is the color worn by royalty. The Church is not uncomfortable with indentifying Jesus as a royal person and the descendent of kings and queens, as you can see from the next two symbols on our cope:
December 19 – O RADIX JESSE
O Root of Jesse, which stands for an ensign of the people, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek: Come and deliver us.
This antiphon is represented by the symbol of a flower, a stylized rose, and in our view we can see the roots which give the flower life. Jesse, King David’s father, is the root and stock of Jesus.
December 20 – O CLAVIS DAVID
O Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel: that opens and no man shuts, and shuts and no man opens: Come and bring the prisoner out of the prison house and him that sits in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
The second symbol is a key. Keys open locked doors and allow entry into places that have been locked, as Jesus is the way to the Father.
By the way, one of the secrets of the St. Luke’s sacristy is that we do have a low Mass set of vestments for Advent which is most defiantly purple but we keep it tucked away for another generation…for the 18 years I’ve been at St. Luke’s this set has been suppressed, as we say in Altar-Guild-speak. (A low Mass set for us is a chasuble, burse, veil and two stoles, a high mass set is a chasuble, dalmatic for the deacon, a tunicle for the sub-deacon, one or two copes, a burse, veil and two stoles.)
There are eight symbols, so we’re half-way through. 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
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