Saturday, 29 November 2014

Why Nuestra Señora de la O?

Why do we Hispanics call the Blessed Virgin, under the title of her Expectation of Childbirth, Our Lady of the O? We reproduce part of the following passage in from the unpublished manuscript on the misa de aguinaldo by this author.



THE MANY NAMES OF THE FEAST

It is important to highlight the oft-ignored fact that this transferred feast was named as the feast of the Mother of the Lord, in honour of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as is evident from the heading of the first canon of Tenth Council of Toledo. When the Missale mixtum of Cisneros appeared in 1500, 25 March is appointed Annuntiatio Sanctae Mariae, and 18 December as Annuntiatio Sanctae Mariae de la O. This double celebration in the missal is mentioned and indeed explained in the present sixth lesson of the feast on 18 December, to wit:
However, although the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin mayeth now keep its place, and be celebrated on the eighth calends of April in the whole Church: the Church of Toledo nevertheless retaineth both solemnities: one in the month of March, as it mayeth follow the most hallowed custom of the Church of Rome, which is the instructress and mother of all churches: another on the eighth day before the birthday of the Lord: first, since this solemnity was instituted by the very Church of Toledo, and received with great veneration by other churches, it mayeth be celebrated hitherto through all Spain; second, since certainly, therefore, on this very day, the Most Holy Virgin might have deigned to consecrate with her presence the cathedral of Toledo, and to adorn her servant Ildephonsus with holy gifts.
It profits us greatly to notice that at the onset of the 16th century, the feast on 18 December had already been called the Annunciation of Holy Mary of the O. Part of which name persists even to our time in the ubiquitous Marian advocacy of Nuestra Señora de la O, the more popular name by which the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin is known in Spain and in her former colonies. Many authors have already explained to us the origin of this curious appellation, and there are two outstanding theories, one of which The Catholic Encyclopedia dismisses as impossible.

Rivadeneira and Lambertini present these two origins briefly in their respective explanations of the feast, which by all means are identical. Concerning the first, they assert that the title Sancta Maria de la O owes its provenance from the antiphonae maiores, literally, Greater Antiphons, more commonly known throughout Christendom as the O Antiphons. The antiphons, prefaced by the interjection O, address our Lord each day leading towards Christmas under one of His many titles: O Sapientia on the 17th; O Adonai on the 18th; O Radix Jesse on the 19th; O Clavis David on the 20th; O Oriens on the 21st; O Rex Gentium on the 22nd; and O Emmanuel on the 23rd. Removing the interjection, and stringing together the first letters, we get the word sarcore, which, when reversed, gives us ero cras, literally, Tomorrow, I shall be.

In Rivadeneira’s words:
[The feast] is also called the feast of Our Lady of the O because from its vespers, some antiphons are begun to be said in the Divine Office at the Magnificat, and which are continued until the eve of the Nativity, which antiphons begin in O.
This is the claim which The Catholic Encyclopedia rejects, pointing out that the O Antiphons were alien to the Mozarabic Rite. The reason turns out to be correct, for these antiphons were found in mediaeval exemplars of the Breviarium Romanum. In the Breviarum secundum regulam beati Isidori which appeared in 1502, nothing is found remotely resembling such antiphons. The feast of the Blessed Virgin on 18 December is consistently suited as the Annunciation. In fact, the entire Office of 25 March is applied for 18 December.

Concerning the second, Rivadeneira explains that the feast is thus named because
[...] of some particular ceremony of the holy church of Toledo. For having finished praying the collect of the vespers of the feast of the Expectation, all the clergy who attend choir, shout with a great voice, with neither order nor arrangement, pronouncing this letter O, to denote the desire and yearning, which the Holy Fathers in Limbo, and the entire world, felt with the Advent and Nativity of their universal Restorer and Redeemer.
This is the thesis which The Catholic Encyclopedia supports, for nowhere in the Roman Rite can we find such practice, and nowhere in its austerity can we find a niche to introduce a parallel practice. There are, nevertheless, certain questions that must be answered concerning these two. First, these two reasons could not have been founded merely on pure vapour. To merit mention in history, they themselves should have been fairly established at the time Rivadeneira and Lambertini were writing.

The first custom, owing to its strong Roman flavour, would have probably arisen after the imposition of the Roman Rite in virtually all churches of Spain. It probably would have been absent prior to 1085. Azor, whom Lambertini quotes, understood this perfectly for he says:
And since the translation occurreth on the day, in which the Church of Rome beginneth to sing at the collects at vespers those antiphons, which are called greater and more solemn, and which are inchoated with the letter O, it is therefore also called in Spain as the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin of the O.
The term Church of Rome here is interposed with a prior mention of the Church of Toledo in the text.

The latter custom, on the other hand, is not attested prior to the Muslim invasion, which means either it was considered inconsequential in the festivities of the Blessed Virgin before 711 A.D., or it came into being during the Muslim occupation of southern Iberia. We are inclined to agree with this second hypothesis, even though the only available account we possess of these profound suspirations of longing simultaneously date the practice to Saint Ildephonsus, and indicate that the prolonged interjection is but an extension of the O antiphons. Let us examine Salazar de Mendoza:
It hath remained since the time of Saint Ildephonsus, in the most holy church of Toledo, that on the eve of this feast, the collect of the day having been said, the archbishop intoneth from his see the O antiphon, and then all the choir sayeth in confused voices: O, O, O. If the prelate is absent, the most senior canon of his choir, with sceptre, riseth to his see to make the intonation. On the other days, until one before the eve of Christmas, the subcantors make invitations to intone the O antiphon in the following manner. On the first day, as hath been said, the prelate intoneth it. On the second day, it goeth to the choir of the dean, and he intoneth it from his see. On the third day, it returneth to the choir of the archbishop, and the archdeacon of Toledo intoneth it from his see. On the fourth day, the archdeacon of Madrid intoneth, who is in the choir of the dean, and the rest of this choir intone no more, but those of the archbishop’s. On the fifth day, the archdeacon of Talavera intoneth. On the sixth day, the treasurer. On the seventh day, the archdeacon of Calatrava. All with a sceptre in their hand, which a subcantor and a master of ceremonies give them, and from their sees: to which come all prebendaries and beneficiaries of the choirs. In the absence of whichever dignity, a canon from his choir intoneth, placing himself on the see of the absent dignity, to whom belonged the intonation. The canons were invited since antiquity, so that each day their own choir, and even though it mayeth be modern, choose the most senior members, when he goeth to the see of the dignity to intone the antiphon: and the cantors respond: O, O, O, O.
To us, this text describes the see of Toledo in relatively freer circumstances, when ecclesiasts congregated in Toledo for the liturgy, something which appears out of place in a time when even the pealing of church bells and the processions which are customarily held during the great feasts of the see were forbidden. Salazar de Mendoza is most likely giving us a glimpse of the customs of Toledo after liberty of Christian worship had been restored.

This desire and yearning of the world for the Redeemer, preserved in the account of Salazar de Mendoza, evokes the same desire and yearning of the Mozarabs for deliverance from Muslim domination. And from this we unmask the plight which they suffered under Muslim rule, the persecutions both spiritual and civic, the reduction of the Christian population, and the migrations, which, instead of weakening them into a race of madmen (as the Muslim authorities were wont to invoke to justify the persecutions), solidified them as a people of God. This approach to interpreting Mozarabic practices has been employed by Burriel, as described by Boynton.

It saddens us deeply, therefore, that, when the Mozarabs were finally delivered from the hands of the Muslims, their rite intact, they should be thrust into the liturgical turmoil ushered into Spain by papal policy. Such intervention, however, would not completely eradicate their liturgical patrimony, but the losses it suffered in this era would move any decent liturgist to tears.

Chapter I. The feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The history of the misa de aguinaldo: from Spain to the Philippine Islands

[Note: Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini would later be elected into the papacy, choosing as his regnal name Benedict XIV.]

If we admit the thesis of Mendoza, as above, that the practice of shouting the O in the Divine Office, then we have to dismiss the assertion that the O came from the O Antiphons. Saint Ildephonsus celebrated the Old Hispanic Rite, and we are fortunate to know that an office book from his time survives up to the present, having been spirited out of Iberia before the Muslim invasion. The Verona Orationale (the name which that Old Hispanic liturgical book, for having been finally preserved in Verona) contains the Old Hispanic office for the transferred Annunciation on 18 December. The O Antiphons do not appear in the office of vespers.

Why, therefore, do we call the Blessed Virgin, gravid with child, Our Lady of the O? We thus call her to echo that confused O, that suspiration of hope, which filled the Church of Toledo during vespers in honour of the Annunciation.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps it has no relation at all, but I know that in the Iberian peninsula "o" is a sound used in nursery rhymes to put children to sleep.

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