Those who champion the use of the church's traditional hours of prayer, called the Divine Office -- or, for those who labour under Rome's latest adventure in revisionism, The Liturgy of the Hours -- often point out the seven beautiful antiphons in the Vespers service prominent in the immediate run up to Christmas from 17 through 23 December. They are often called the "O" Antiphons, because each begins in Latin with "O", as in the first one, O Wisdom, or O Sapientia in Latin.
You can find some excellent meditations on them on some of the blogs listed in my blogroll, and start with Pastor Weedon's. I'd like to point out that not only do these antiphons, the Vespers of which they are a part, and Advent itself, point to the unfolding history of salvation one of whose decisive moments we are about to celebrate, but in fact the whole Divine Office both points to the unfolding salvation story and is in fact a part of it, a development that did not arise with the Church.
Pre Messiah, there were no particular set times for prayer for hundreds of years. Not that prayer wasn't prayed at set times in various places, but there was nothing normative about it. This originated at the end of the Babylonian Captivity (the one that happened to the Jews, not the Church!) with the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the reconstruction of the Temple, ie the Second Temple. Ezra and the 120 Men established them in essentially the form they are still used in the synagogue. Established, not originated. These were not new, but were codified into three times of prayer during the day. These times were set to correspond to the three times of sacrifice in the Temple: morning (shaharit), afternoon (minha) and evening (arvit or maariv). On top of that, in Jewish tradition they trace themselves to the times of prayer Scripture records for each of the three great Patriarchs: Abraham in the morning (Gen19:27), Isaac at dusk (Gen24:63) and Jacob in the evening (Gen28:10).
This pattern was adapted by the Church in light of the Christ having come, and is the basis of the three major times of prayer in the Divine Office we know as Matins, Vespers and Compline. Just as in the Divine Service, or mass, we have essentially a Christian synagogue service followed by a Christian seder, a service of the word followed by the sacrament of the altar, so in the Divine Office we have in Matins a Christian shaharit going back through the history of the New Israel the church to the pre-Messianic morning synagogue service which Jesus and the Apostles knew and aligned with morning sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the morning prayer time of Abraham, in Vespers a Christian minha going back through the church to the afternoon synagogue service known to Jesus and the Apostles and aligned with the afternoon sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the afternoon prayer time of Isaac, and in Compline a Christian arvit or maariv going back through the church to the evening synagogue service Jesus and the Apostles knew and aligned with the evening sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the evening prayer time of Jacob.
Absolutely, not commanded by Scripture. But we Lutherans aren't a If it ain't in Scripture we ain't doing it crowd. Our confessions are explicit -- though unfortunately sometimes our parishes aren't -- that we happily accept the observances and ceremonies that those who came before us in faith brought about and hand on to us, rejecting not what isn't in Scripture but only what contradicts it that crept in here and there over time.
And what a great gift has been handed to us! In the Divine Office as in the Divine Service we not only have a magnificent gift from those who came before us, but we take our place with them in the forward motion toward the final fulfillment of the promises of God, and do so in a vehicle that is itself an expression and product of the advent, the coming, the unfolding through all its points leading to that great and final Coming!!
Get a hold of that and you'll say "O" indeed! Join in!!
+ Johann Gerhard, Theologian + - 17 August AD 1637 [image: Johann Gerhard] Born 17 October 1582, Johann Gerhard, a Lutheran theologian in the tradition of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Mar...
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