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O Rex Gentium – 22nd December

O King whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay. 

In the final days of Advent, the Church recites the Great O Antiphons at Vespers each evening. In this blog extracted from Praying the Great O Antiphons, Katy Carl reflects on the sixth of these O Antiphons: O Rex Gentium.

Gospel Acclamation: 

King of the peoples and cornerstone of the Church, come and save man whom you made from the dust of the earth. 

Magnificat Antiphon: 

O King whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay. 

Reflection on O Rex Gentium

The kingship of Christ, which we first considered in the antiphon “O Adonai,” recurs here with more insistence. After considering what kind of king Christ is, and how he begins to rule in our lives, we can see that his Incarnation resolves the tensions that run through our relationships with divine authority and divine intimacy. Wherever Christ is king – which is not necessarily wherever people pay him lip service, but wherever he is really allowed to reign – false oppositions are reconciled, necessary boundaries are strengthened while needless walls crumble, and all divisions, fractures, or separations that do not please God are healed. Christ “makes all one,” not by erasing difference, but by putting an end to discrimination, disregard, and disrespect. He soothes the pain of those who suffer and lifts them up to act worthily of their dignity. He not only calls for the repentance of those who harm others, he heals the woundedness that led to such unrighteous behaviour. 

Once more, then, God is restored to the place he had in the Garden of Eden when he spoke familiarly with Adam. He speaks to us in and through a human nature he shares with us: even when he walked on the earth, he “needed no one to bear witness about [humanity], for he himself knew what was in” human hearts (John 2:25). Once more he walks beside us, in our hearts, as he once walked on earth in the body for a brief time. 

Today he walks beside us in the lives of all those who live his teachings, in the Sacraments of the Church, and above all in the Eucharist, where he is really present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity: “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognised him…. [T]hey said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us…while he opened to us the Scriptures?’” (Luke 24:30-32) At the same time, at this stage in history, Jesus Christ sits in glory at the right hand of God the Father. He sees our hearts: he always honours the intended wholeness and the innate goodness given to each person. This is why he is depicted in the tradition as the one who judges, why he is considered the only one who may judge: he is the only one capable of seeing the full picture. Yet in the Gospel of John, he even says: “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47). The verse goes on to unfold how Christ, as light, shines into the world not as judgement but as hope. Those who close their eyes to the light lose the ability to comprehend it. Christ’s word is the only thing capable of showing us credibly how some acts, some habits, are not worthy of our human dignity, as they do not lead us to lives of full flourishing. He calls on us to turn aside from anything that prevents our flourishing and that of others in our families and societies. He asks us to change – sometimes in ways that strike at what we think of as our roots, sometimes in ways whose cost runs high – but all of this change is only in service of the fullness of our potential and that of others. Christ as King sees and pursues the whole picture of the common good in the Church, in the world, and in the interior of each soul. He wants, most incredibly of all, not to see us bent down as abject subjects, but walking close beside him and looking at the same object: God the Father, the source of all goodness and truth and beauty. 

This is how C.S. Lewis famously describes the posture of friendship: two people walking side by side, looking at the same truth together, in wonder. And Christ himself says, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15). And who is this friend we have, other than the one who made us “from clay” or, as Genesis has it, from dust? “Without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3); “before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jer 1:5). Our being has its source in him and finds its only hope in him. 

So here again, as in the antiphon “O Radix Jesse,” we call upon Jesus to come and save us – this time not only in the communal voice of the People of God, but in the voice of each one of us, individually, personally: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice!” (Ps 130:1-2). This time we call upon him in the fullness of his power, in the fullness of restored divine friendship, and as ones who have been given by grace every right to call – the way children have every right to call upon their parents to have their needs met. 

The sound is still more intense. The need is still more demanding. Why is he not with us yet? Why has he not been with us before now? Is it possible that he is here already, has been here all along, and we have not yet perceived him, even as he was with the disciples and they did not know him? But how can we say that God wants to be with us when he so often appears absent from our experience? Could it be that he is with us all along, but that we are absent from him like St Augustine, looking for God everywhere except where he most properly rules? 

Image copyright Fr Lawrence Lew OP.

Praying the Great O AntiphonsThis blog is extracted from our book Praying the Great O Antiphons. In the final days of Advent, the Church recites the Great O Antiphons at Vespers each evening. Katy Carl contemplates each of these antiphons, drawing on art, literature, and Sacred Scripture to show how they tell the story of Jesus Christ, the Babe of Bethlehem.

To learn more about the O Antiphons, order your copy of Praying the Great O Antiphons today.