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

O Come, O Come Emmanuel, A French Processionale, and John Mason Neale

December 19, 2012 Comments Off on O Come, O Come Emmanuel, A French Processionale, and John Mason Neale

On the 4th Sunday of Advent we sing one of the most beloved hymns of the Advent season, “O come, O come Emmanuel”. For me personally the text of this hymn is a summation of the observance and spirit of preparation and anticipation that is Advent, and the requisite final hymn for any annual observance of the season. It was even sung in my protestant parish when I was young, though mysteriously on Advent I. Even though I have rejected nearly all of the theology of that denomination, they did have good taste in music. Most, if not all of us, are familiar with the hymn text and can hum the familiar tune, but the origins of both the text and melody provide in interesting glimpse into our collective liturgical past. As we prepare for the Solemn Feast of the Nativity, let’s take a moment and reflect on the nearly 800 years of history that passed, while each year the texts were sung with quiet contemplation. Those familiar lines and tune which, like so many aspects of our familiar hymns, rituals, liturgies and other components of Anglican worship, meet where the centuries-old forms of worship in the pre-Reformation church intersect with the reformed Catholicism of the Oxford Movement with its interest in England’s Medieval liturgical and musical heritage, and our own 21-century expression of traditional worship.

Each verse of the Latin processional chant Veni, veni Emmanuel is a metric paraphrase of what are known as the “O” Antiphons, for the simple reason that they begin: O radix Jesse, O sapientia etc. The symbolism of each of the antiphons is beautifully explained by Sean Scheller in his contribution to the Advent blog, using the images found on the front of our gorgeous Advent cope made some years ago by the venerable Graham French.  In the Catholic West the “O” Antiphons frame the Magnificat sung or recited at Vespers in the Roman Catholic or Evensong in the Anglican traditions during the octave, or eight days, prior to the Nativity. Each one is one of the names which are given to the Messiah, and also reference the prophecies of Isaiah. To make it even more interesting, the first letter of each 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. Oddly, considering their widespread usage, the texts were not set chorally in a complete set until the 17th –century by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. In modern times the texts have received more attention by composers, Bob Chilcott, Arvo Pärt and Peter Hallock are among the contemporary composers who have set them.

The exact origin of the O Antiphon texts remains a mystery, but we do know of a few threads. The Roman Philosopher Boethius alludes to them as early as the 6th century, and they were in use in Roman liturgies within the next two centuries.  The Anglo-Saxon poet Cynewulf (c.800) based four sections of his poem entitled Christ on the antiphons O Rex gentium, O Clavis David, O Oriens and O Emmanuel suggesting more than a passing familiarly. The metical version which is the basis for our version of five of the seven antiphons was in use in the 13th –century. They are less literal, abandoning the more gloomy aspects of the original texts replacing them with the more confident “Gaude, gaude Emmanuel” refrain as you can see in the text and translation below. Those of you who know the hymn tune by heart will be immediately struck by how easily the Latin words fit with the familiar melody.


An early version of the English hymn as we know it was included in The Hymnal Noted – Part II in 1852. The text was translated by the great John Mason Neale (1818-1866), a high-churchman whose invaluable work translating medieval hymn texts into English for modern usage is one of the largest single contributions to traditional hymnody in use in the church today. As a vocal advocate of the Oxford movement, Neale had to endure a good deal of opposition, including a fourteen years’ inhibition by his bishop. He translated the Eastern liturgies into English, and wrote a mystical and devotional commentary on the Psalms. He held to the belief that the truth was found in the mediaeval and orthodox theologies of the church and popular hymn composers such as Isaac Watts composed erroneous theological texts, and was an offence against good taste. Neale was little appreciated in his time, and received is Doctor of Divinity not in England but at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut in 1860. He is best known as a hymn writer and, especially, translator, having enriched English hymnody with many ancient and mediaeval hymns translated from Latin and Greek. More than anyone else, he made English-speaking congregations aware of the centuries-old tradition of Latin, Greek, Russian, and Syrian hymns. The English Hymnal (1906) contains 63 translated hymns and six original hymns by Neale. His translations include a number of St. Luke’s favorites, all found in the Hymnal 1982 among them: All Glory, Laud, and Honor, Of the Father’s Heart Begotten, Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle, and To Thee Before the Close of Day.


The Veni, veni Emmanuel tune was in use by the 13th century, found alternately in a manuscript in Portugal (now missing) and in a book of French processional chants. Although it its exact date of composition is unclear, the close relationship of text to melody suggests that either the tune was composed to fit the meter of the text, or they were composed together. The French Processionale book has the familiar hymn tune on a left-hand folio, with a complementary discantus part on the opposite folio. A lovely version of the hymn from the Processionale is found in the New Oxford Book of Carols (Andrew Parrott and Hugh Keyte, editors) and on the Taverner Choir’s Carol Album easily found on iTunes or Spotify. Take a moment to listen to the original version of the hymn, pause and reflect on the fact that like us, many who have come before have felt a similar attachment and sense of anticipation, preparation and awe in what are the last few days of the Advent before the coming each year of our Lord Jesus.

Click the link to hear the Tavner Consort perform Veni, Veni Emmanuel: Veni, Veni Emmanuel – Taverner Consort

– John Bradley

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

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.

Advent Blue Cope -- rose

 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.

 Advent Blue Cope -- key

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

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:


 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.Advent Cope

 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. Advent Blue Cope

 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

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