About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Friday, 10 December 2010

O magnum mysterium

This brief reflection was originally posted on the Hopeful Imagination blog earlier this week. I thought I would reproduce it here.

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, followed by 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.


  1. Yes, the manger is both a sign of Christ's humility and of his community with all of life, not just human life. Indeed, the two are linked etymologically. Humility comes from humilis, low, lowly, which in turn comes from humus, earth, from which also (probably) comes the term humanus. Etymology can be overdone, but I particularly like this link, especially since it is even clearer in Hebrew ('adamah/'adam).

    Lovely music. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. yes, we're told that etymology isn't theology, but sometimes i'm not so sure!

    just love your example.

    i also like the fact that crucial comes from crucis -- the cross really is that important.