O Oriens


O Sunrise,
Splendor of the Eternal Light,
and Sun of Justice:
come and enlighten them that sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death.

It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.
      Rv 22.16

But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.
     Ml 4.2a

...the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
      Lk 1.76–79

For [Wisdom] is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.
     Ws 7.26

[Christ] is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.
      Hb 1.3a

Light is one of the most fundamental and powerful symbols available to humans, whose lives are (or were until modern times) profoundly shaped by the changes of day and night. It is profoundly appropriate that the Church should sing this antiphon at the solstice, when in the Northern Hemisphere the sun’s light is at its weakest (and in the Southern at its strongest); Christ has been called ‘light’ and ‘sun’, and also a reflection of the light of the Father (as had been Wisdom). Oriens means the rising sun (and by extension, the East), often translated ‘Morning Star’, ‘Dayspring’, etc.; this, as well as the fact that Eden was said to be in the East, is the reason that churches are traditionally orientated, and the direction of prayer, including that of the Celebrant of the Mass, is traditionally the East. The passage from St Luke’s Gospel quoted above is part of the Benedictus Dominus Deus, the Song of Zechariah, uttered by the aged priest on the occasion of the circumicision and naming of his son, St John the Baptist (the ‘child’ spoken of in the first verse above), and sung daily at Morning Prayer (Lauds).