The Saints John
How delightful to see in this painting both little Johns, the Baptist and the Theologian, together with the Incarnate Word, Holy Wisdom. Note that the little Evangelist is already writing the opening words of the Prologue of his Gospel.
Meditating the O Antiphons
The singing of the O Antiphon before and after the Magnificat at Vespers is the high point of the sacrificium vespertinum. In monasteries, the first of the Great O Antiphons is intoned by the Abbot or Prior from his place; the choir continues it standing outside the stalls. Candlebearers flank the Abbot or Prior; the church bells are rung continuously throughout the Antiphon and the Magnificat; and the altar is incensed.
Make Known to Us Your Ways
O Wisdom coming forth from the mouth of the Most High God, Your lordship is over all that is, stretching from the beginning to the end, You who order all things with might and with sweetness, come teach us the path of prudence. Make known to us Your ways.
We call upon Christ as Holy Wisdom, the eternal Wisdom of the Father, and we make a very specific petition: “Come, teach us the way of prudence.” What is prudence? It is the habit of using our reason, in every circumstance, to discern what is our true good and of choosing the means to achieve it. Saint Thomas calls prudence “right reason in action.” Prudence is an austere virtue because it means that we will not allow our decisions, our course of action, or our reactions to be determined by our emotions.
When we allow our choices to be determined by fear–fear of loss, fear of rejection, fear of making a mistake, fear of failure, fear of the future, or any other fear–we are not being prudent. When we allow our choices to be determined by an unwise love, a disordered love, we are not being prudent. When we choose impulsively, we are not being prudent. When we delay choosing and put off acting, we are not being prudent. Prudence has to do with choosing wisely so as to act wisely. And so today, we cry out to Wisdom, begging to be taught the way of prudence.
The Might and Sweetness of God
The antiphon’s poignant plea is answered immediately in the chanting of the Magnificat, which evening after evening points to the following day’s Holy Sacrifice whereby God “fills the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53). In response to our cry, the Word is sent forth ex ore Altissimi, “from the mouth of the Most High.” Fortiter. The might of God comes to us in our weakness. Suaviter. The gentle sweetness of God comes to us in our bitterness. “Come to teach us the way of prudence.” The prudence of God comes to rescue us from our folly.
Wisdom in Our Midst
Will the advent of Holy Wisdom, her arrival and appearing in our midst, leave us unchanged? Today is the meeting of our weakness with the might of the Logos, the meeting of our harshness with God’s disarming gentleness, the meeting of our shortsightedness with the prudence of the ages. Shall we plead for Wisdom’s arrival and then refuse her advances? Shall we retreat before the arrival of the long-desired Word? Or shall we go out to meet Wisdom with lighted lamps?
The Taste of Wisdom
Holy Wisdom’s arrival in what Evelyn Underhill calls “the liturgic Word” is completed in the mysteries of Christ’s Sacred Body and Precious Blood. Our communion with Wisdom is two-fold: in the chanted Word of the Divine Office and in the adorable mysteries of the altar. To our “Come!” Wisdom replies, in turn, “Come, eat my bread and drink the wine which I have mingled for you. Forsake childishness, and live, and walk by the ways of prudence” (Proverbs 9:5-6).