The next little change is again in an Antiphon. This time in Matins. The Roman version is as follows:
Thou has set thy glory above the heavens, O God, alleluia.
The Anglican Breviary renders the same Antiphon in a slightly adapted form:
O thou that hast set thy glory above the heavens, how excellent is thy Name in all the world, alleluia.
Again Fr. Joseph adds to the Antiphon by using a phrase which occurs in the Psalm the Antiphon is connected to. In vs. 1 and 9 of Psalm 8 (Anglican Breviary, p. C389) we find the phrase Fr. Joseph added: “how excellent is thy Name in all the world.” The addition is neither disturbing nor necessary. Though perhaps an objection might be made that the addition removes some of the impact of “Thou hast set thy glory above the heavens” as the Roman original has it, simply by having been added. There are now more words to be chanted/said. For the purpose of Ascension the original covers the load just fine.
On the other hand an argument could also be made that the phrase Fr. Joseph added is in fact nothing more but the natural context for the original Antiphon anyway! The eight Psalm begins thus:
O LORD our Governour, how excellent is thy Name in all the world,* thou hast set thy glory above the heavens.
Very clearly the setting of His (the Lord’s) glory above the heavens is connected to the excellence of the Lord’s Name. The Fr. Joseph rendition of this Antiphon simply brings this out. Yet – being by nature a liturgical conservative – I could personally have done without the emphasis Fr. Joseph added. The Antiphon as it is has a clear connection to the Psalm already and the connection of Ascension and the excellence of God’s Name are already present in the original. The “above the heaven” is no doubt the reason this portion of the verse was used for an Ascension Antiphon and the leaving our of the excellence of the divine Name serves to emphasize the specific Ascension angle. We are not here celebrating the excellency of the Name of Jesus but rather His Ascension. Be that as it may the adaptation is mild and of little consequence either good or bad. I can see why some may and others may not want to follow Fr. Joseph’s lead here.
A major adaptation
When we come to the third antiphon of the the first nocturn (on Psalm 19 or 18 in the Roman Breviary since the numbering is different) we find a major adaptation. This is not a slight twist or a tweak but an almost entire re-writing or re-invention of the antiphon. The Roman original is as follows:
His going forth * is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit even to the end thereof, alleluia.
But in the AB it becomes:
The Sun of Righteousness goeth forth, from the utter most part of the heaven into the darkness under the earth,* and runneth about unto the end of it again, to the fullness above, alleluia.
The basic idea of movement is preserved in Father Joseph’s rendition but it is made more explicit where the movement begins and ends and who or what it is that moves. The conservative in me wants to defend the original simplicity, but the worshiper in me really appreciates the clarity and biblical elegance of Fr. Joseph’s rewriting of this antiphon. Liturgy often takes the worshiper on an interpretative prayer-walk through Scripture by connecting images and verses from Holy Writ in unexpected but quite beautiful ways. It seems to me this is what Fr. Joseph set out to do and – to my mind – accomplished! Let’s break down the components of both renditions and see what happens.
To be continued.