O Sapientia

17 December

The cryptic phrase O Sapientia appears in The Book of Common Prayer without explanation. 17 December marks the beginning of the week before the celebration of Christmas, the Birth of Christ, and at Evensong, the great Song of Mary, Magnificat, has a refrain or antiphon attached to it proclaiming the ascriptions or 'names' given to God through the Old Testament. Each name developed into a prophecy of the forthcoming and eagerly-anticipated Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God. O Sapientia, or O Wisdom, is the first of these days, followed on 18 December by O Adonai, then O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O King of the Nations and finally on 23 December O Emmanuel. In the old Sarum rite, these were sung one day earlier, requiring another ascription for 23 December, this being O Virgin of Virgins. Since this was clearly apposite to the Blessèd Virgin Mary, and not a 'title' of God (though, of course, it could easily be) it was not adopted much beyond Sarum and, with the revision of the Calendar, the Church of England has adopted the more widely-used formulæ and dating.