The antiphon O of December 18: “O Adonai, shepherd of the house of Israel”

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Listen to the Dominican student brothers from the Angelicum convent in Rome singing the Advent antiphons O. The second antiphon addresses the name of God attributed to Jesus, the head and guide of the Church, who reveals himself in the fire of the Holy Spirit to free the world from the slavery of sin.

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igni flammae rubi apparitionisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in bracchio extento.

“O Adonai, shepherd of the house of Israel, You who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and who gave him the Law at Sinai, come to redeem us by deploying the strength of your arm!»

The unpronounceable name of God

The cycle of “antiphons O” continues, invoking Christ as Adonai. The name “Adonai” attributed to Christ underlines his divinity. This is the substitute that Jews use for the oral reading of the Tetragrammaton in the Torah: YHVH, the unpronounceable name of God. This name was only pronounced in ancient Israel once a year, by the High Priest, when he entered the Holy of Holies of the Temple in Jerusalem.

If this name is unpronounceable, it is because in biblical culture, the name truly designates the essence of a person, as it is known and therefore mastered. But God, even after the Incarnation, remains unknown, in the sense that everything that faith, the magisterium and theology can affirm about Him is true, but inadequate to the transcendent richness of His object. The name “Adonai”, which is generally translated as “Lord God”, is therefore only an approximation. But its attribution to Christ is the affirmation of the divinity of the incarnate Word.

It is significant that with the name of God most closely rooted in Jewish tradition, the antiphon associates the title “shepherd of the house of Israel.” Christ is therefore the God of Israel who takes flesh to lead him to his end which is God himself (the Latin dux is closer to “guide” or “conductor” than the French translation “shepherd”, which does not is however not without merit since it echoes David, first head of the house of Israel, shepherd who became king).

The head and guide of the herd

In a group, the guide places himself in front, first in the rope in an ascent of which he is deemed to know the path and the difficulties. The guide is united with the group, whose survival depends on him. Likewise, Christ is sent by the Father to be the head of the mystical Body which is the Church. Christ is at the same time one of us, a member of the Mystical Body, but distinct from us since he is its head, that is to say the one who communicates life and information to the body, and towards whom all the The activity of the body is ordered. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, is the guide of the new Israel that is the Church, but also of ancient Israel, whose entire history is polarized by his advent in the flesh.

God is spoken in the fire

The title “Adonai”, substitute for YHVH, associated with the guidance of the house of Israel, is also associated by the antiphon with the theophany of the Burning Bush, in which Moses is precisely described as a shepherd.

“Moses was tending the flocks […] and came to the mountain of God, Horeb.The Angel of YHVH appeared to him in a flame of fire from the middle of a bush.Moses looked: the bush was on fire but the bush was not consumed” (Ex 3:1-2).

Christ, the new Moses, appears to the people of Israel as God appeared to Moses in the flames of the Burning Bush. Some see in the burning bush the Virgin Mary who, filled with the Holy Spirit, welcomes the Word of God into herself, and burns without being consumed. That is to say, give birth while preserving your virginity. But it is also and above all a Trinitarian theophany: God is said in the fire (God = the Father; is said = the Word; in the fire = the Holy Spirit ).

The divine name that God reveals on this occasion, in Ex 3:14 (“  I am He who is ”) obeys the same logic as the Tetragrammaton represented by the expression “Adonai”, referring to the unknowable character of the to be divine, by excess of perfection, of plenitude. It is also a way of expressing that God is, par excellence, faithful to the people of Israel: He was, is, and will be. In doing so, God anticipates the Mosaic covenant sealed in the giving of the Law at Sinai, which the antiphon then evokes: “He [Moses] wrote on the tables, as the first time, the ten Words that YHVH had spoken to you on the mountain, from the midst of the fire, in the day of the assembly” ( Dt 10:4 ). It is indeed the theology of the Alliance which is at the heart of this second antiphon O.

Covenant Theology

This theology of the Covenant, the heart of the mystery of Israel that Christ comes to fulfill, is only possible because the people remember the fidelity of God, manifested in his interventions on their behalf. This is what the end of the antiphon indicates, “redeem us by the strength of your arm”. It is first of all the liberation from the slavery of Egypt which is aimed at: “But they are your people, your inheritance, those whom you brought out by your great strength and your outstretched arm” (Dt 9, 29 ) ; “They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and the strength of your arm! » ( Ne 1, 10 ).

This liberation, which constitutes the people as such, is the prototype of all God’s interventions in favor of Israel, Egypt typologically becoming the archetype of the servitude of sin. The invincible power of the arm that sank Pharaoh’s chariots in the Red Sea will never leave Israel. This is what the Law, given by God to Moses at Sinai, guarantees to the people:

“The God of this people, the God of Israel, elected our fathers and made this people grow during their exile in the land of Egypt.Then, with the strength of his arm, he brought them out and, for about forty years, he cared for them in the desert” (Acts 3:17-18).

This gift of the Law on Mount Sinai prepares the people of Israel for the gift of the new Law given by Jesus Christ during the Sermon on the Mount, the New Covenant which culminates in the Beatitudes, parallel to the Ten Commandments.

The Incarnation is the moment when the promise of this divine protection with an outstretched arm is fulfilled, as the Virgin Mary senses in her Magnificat  : “He displayed the strength of his arm, he scattered the men of proud hearts” ( Lk 1:51 ). Ultimately, it is the arms of Christ, extended on the Cross as if to embrace all humanity, which are the guarantee of the salvation that God wants to bring about for the human race. At the Cross, the entire history of Israel finds its completion.

To find out more: Angelicum .

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