O Sapientia: Wisdom 2015

Today we begin a week of proximate preparation for Christmas. This morning some churches will be celebrating a Rorate Mass, often known as the Missa Aurea (Golden Mass), while tonight every monastery of the Latin Rite will begin the sequence of special antiphons known as the Great or O Antiphons. For more information about these, and to listen to the antiphons being sung, please go to this page of our main website (you will need Flash to play the recordings) : http://bit.ly/1roZnkA. You will find several posts about each of the O antiphons in this blog — a search in the sidebar search box should give you some of them.

So much for mere information, but this post is about wisdom and the prayer for Wisdom contained in the first of the antiphons we sing tonight, O Sapientia. It is an urgent prayer and one that should transform our whole being. Indeed, it is the kind of prayer that makes one tremble. Can I really pray this? Am I ready to pray this? At first sight, it is not so very terrible.

O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.
O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner: come to teach us the way of prudence.

But consider that first sentence and the Wisdom that comes forth from the mouth of the Most High: it is an emanation of God himself. How often we forget that! His power is infinite, yet we often assume that he exists to do our bidding. We shrink the Creator of the Universe down to a Fairy Godmother. Our mouths ought to be purified with living coals before we dare to take his name on our lips, but we ignore God’s infinite holiness, his utter transcendence, because it is too vast for our minds to take in.

We seem to have got it all wrong. Our idea of God’s wisdom is too tame, too little. No wonder we must ask him to teach us, and the first thing he must teach us is prudence which, as St Benedict says, is the mother of all the virtues. To have a right view of God, the world and our own place in it, to have a right relationship with all these, we need wisdom and prudence. There is a danger, of course, that in concentrating on the ‘otherness’ of God, we may forget his tenderness and compassion and be filled with a fear that is not reverent but merely craven. God wants us to come to him as a loving Father, so the antiphon reminds us that the God of infinite strength is also the God of infinite gentleness. Paradox upon paradox, and at its heart, the mystery of love.

The Second Preface of Advent used from today onwards gives us the theology of these last days of Advent in a nutshell. (I have already said what I think about some elements of the translation so won’t go over them again.)

It is truly right and  just,
our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father,
almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

For all the oracles of the prophets foretold him,
the Virgin Mother longed for him with love beyond all telling,
John the Baptist sang of his coming
and proclaimed his presence when he came.

It is by his gift that already we rejoice at the mystery of his Nativity,
so that he may find us watchful in prayer
and exultant in his praise.

And so, with Angels and Archangels,
with Thrones and Dominions,
and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,
we sing the hymn of your glory,
as without end we acclaim:
Holy, Holy, Holy . . .

We have moved beyond prophecy and foretelling to celebration of the wonder of the Incarnation — ‘already we rejoice at the mystery of his Nativity’ — and our response must be prayer and praise. We have a whole week in which to explore the way in which God in Christ comes to us; a whole week in which to make our own the prayer of every generation for a Redeemer and Saviour. However busy we must be, let’s not waste this opportunity. The Lord is very near.