With today’s O antiphon, we tread difficult ground. Kingship is no longer part of the everyday vocabulary of many people, while the references to the desired of the nations, corner-stones, being made one and man formed from clay are more or less obscure to those who don’t have the scriptures at their finger-tips. The text reads well enough in Latin but is awkward in English:
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O King of the Nations for whom they long, the corner-stone who makes of both one, come and deliver man whom you made from clay.
The more awkward the text, however, the more rewarding study of it generally proves. Some of the primary biblical references (e.g. Isaiah 9.7; Isaiah 2.4; Isaiah 28.16; Haggai 2.8; Ephesians 2.14; Genesis 2.7) act as a commentary on the words, filling out the literary short-hand of the composition. What they don’t do is apply the text itself to the life we lead here and now, or not without a few mental gymnastics on our part. It is easy to forget that this antiphon is prayer. Situated at one of the high-points of the Vesper liturgy, it acts as a lens for the Magnificat, concentrating its power and energy. In the antiphon we acknowledge our brokenness, our fragility, our apparently insoluble divisions, and bring our poor, wretched, suffering humanity to him who alone can restore and make it whole. In calling on God as King of the nations, King of the gentiles, we are claiming our birthright as his beloved children, brought into the Covenant through the blood of the cross and made a new creation in Christ. In short, what we ask in prayer is as breathtaking as the gift we are promised; and it is fitting, that having entrusted our needs to him, we sing Mary’s joyful expression of confidence in the Holy One of Israel.
Today, if you can, try to spend a little while thinking about these things. You will find the text and music (Flash needed) here: http://bit.ly/1roZnkA.