Diocesan News

Director, students ready for ‘O Antiphons’

LINCOLN (SNR) – During Advent each year, Sister Mary Schroer looks forward to sharing a “fascinating tidbit” with her choirs at St. Mary Parish in Lincoln.

Sister Mary Schroer serves the parish as music director and organist, and directs the parish adult choir, and the children’s auditioned schola.

“When I was a young Sister,” she said, “we always sang our Compline Office (night prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours) from the Liber Usualis, and at the end of Advent the antiphons assigned to each day began with these Messianic titles from the prophet Isaiah.”

The antiphons, prescribed for Dec. 17-22 are often referred to as the “O Antiphons,” and they have been used since at least the eighth century. They are: O Sapientia (wisdom) for Dec. 17, followed by  O Adonai (Lord), O Radix Jesse (root of Jesse), O Claris David (key of David), O Oriens (rising sun, morning star or dayspring), O Rex Gentium (king of nations), and on Dec. 23, O Emmanuel (“God is with us”).

While the titles in themselves contain a wealth of beauty and meaning about the Lord Jesus, the tidbit Sister Mary loves to share each year is that when they are listed backwards – Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Claris, etc., their first letters form “ero cras,” which translates as “I will be there tomorrow!” This arrangement is called an acrostic poem, one which uses the first letter in each word of a phrase to begin each line of the poem.

“Those monks who wrote and arranged the lyrics to the ‘O Antiphons’ married theological and artistic creativity in an exceptional manner,” Sister Mary said.

The antiphons, she noted, are sung throughout Advent in the verses of the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and they are featured in the Gospel acclamations in the days preceding the celebration of Christmas. 

“Being aware of this ‘ero cras’ secret,” she said, “makes those days even more special to me!”

Father Andrew Heaslip, priest in residence at St. Mary Church, said Sister Mary’s instruction is a huge blessing to the parish.

“When I hear Sister teaching the children during choir practice,” he said, “I am so grateful to God because I hear the full Catholic faith being transmitted to them and it brings me hope and joy.”

In addition to directing choirs, Sister Mary also teaches Church hymns weekly to children in grades 3-5 and helps each class from grades 3-8 to plan the Mass for a special feast day each semester, with students filling active roles at that Mass. She also trains the student Mass readers for daily Masses.

Sister Mary is a religious Sister of Mercy from the West-Midwest Region of her Order. The motherhouse is in Omaha. Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy in 1831, carrying the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy into the streets of Ireland. Sister Mary said the women of her order are praying for her continued journey toward canonization.

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