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.
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.
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. The great cry to Wisdom, O Sapientia, is addressed to the Λόγος, the Eternal Word of God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:1-5
We call upon Christ as Holy Wisdom, the eternal Wisdom of the Father. This is the Wisdom of whom Solomon speaks:
Bold is her sweep from world’s end to world’s end, and everywhere her gracious ordering manifests itself.
She, from my youth up has been my heart’s true love, my heart’s true quest; she was the bride I longed for, enamoured of her beauty. (Wisdom 8:1–2)
Make Known to Us Your Ways
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 Church’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, and says:
Come to me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
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).