Tuesday, December 07, 2010

O magnum mysterium

This past week, I’ve discovered the Christmas responsorial chant O magnum mysterium. It celebrates the presence of animals at the birth of Jesus, notably the ox and the ass (extrapolated from Isaiah 1:3 and part of the Septuagint’s translation of Habakkuk 3:2: ‘you shall be known between the two living creatures’). My simple reflection is this: O magnum mysterium, though a Christmas chant, allows us to recognise that during the advent season, it’s not just humanity that waits for the One to come; it’s the whole of created reality, beasts included. Jesus comes as Messiah of all, as the high priest of creation. An obvious point, perhaps, but one seldom emphasised.

Here is the text of O magnum mysterium in both Latin and English; and do listen to Morten Lauridsen’s sublime arrangement of it.

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

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