O Antiphons: O King of All the Nations
This Sunday is the Third Sunday of Advent, and the “O Antiphon” we consider this week is the Lord’s Messianic title, “O King of All the Nations.” The antiphon for Vespers is:
O King of all the nations,
the only Joy of every human heart;
O Keystone of the mighty arch of man,
come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.
The Alleluia for Mass modifies it as, “O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!”
We start with the last phrase, the “dust.” Genesis 2:7 tells us, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The prophet Isaiah has this to say to us creatures of dust: “Your dead shall live, their bodies shall rise, O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” Yes, the Messianic prophecies do prophesy the resurrection of both of the Messiah, as well as of His people – a cause for great joy! So this O Antiphon also calls the Messiah “the only Joy of every human heart,” and Isaiah says, “Your Name is the desire or our soul” (26:8; cf. Ac 4:12).
The O Antiphon also speaks of a “keystone,” in Scripture sometimes called a “cornerstone.” In masonry construction, the cornerstone, or foundation stone, is the first stone set, and all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, which is at the corner junction of two walls. A keystone pertains to building an arch, and this is the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of the arch that locks the other stones in place. Our antiphon addresses the Messiah as, “O Keystone of the mighty arch of man,” envisioning all mankind as one great arch and the Messiah as the keystone at the crown setting all others in place and stabilizing the arch. St. Peter (1 Peter 2:4-5) and St. Paul (Eph 2:14-22) apply this image to Christ and the Church.
As to a cornerstone, Isaiah prophesies: “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation’” (Is 28:16), and the last phrase in the Greek Septuagint version reads: “‘and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.’” St. Paul quotes this (Ro 9:33; 10:11), and sees the cornerstone as a stumbling stone (as does Isaiah also, 8:14) if one does not believe in faith. St. Peter says people stumble over it because they disobey the word (1 Pet 2:6-8). (In Scripture, belief by faith and obedience to the Word are two sides of the same coin, so to speak.)
The prophet Zechariah also prophesies that out of the house of Judah would come the “cornerstone” (10:4) – a person, the Messiah.
Psalm 118 tells us, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22). Jesus quotes this verse in reference to himself (rejected) and the Kingdom of God which would then be taken away and given to “a nation” (i.e., Gentiles) who produce the Kingdom’s fruit (Mt 21:42). Peter reminded the Jewish Council of this (Ac 4:11) after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, and indicates that Jesus is the cornerstone because “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Ac 4:12).
Now the initial image of the O Antiphon is “King of All the Nations.” In prior articles we have discussed the Messiah’s kingship in Isaiah, such as at 9:5, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests,” and 10:11, “In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious” (cf., Ro 15:12). But the difference in this antiphon is Christ’s Kingship over all the Nations, i.e., the Gentiles.
Isaiah has many other passages about the Messiah’s Kingship, the new creation coming, and the Messiah's Kingship over all the nations. He says that "all the nations shall flow to it [the house of the Lord],” and, “He shall judge between the nations” and there shall be no war any more (Is 2:2-4).
“Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice.... Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen.... Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high ... And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever.” (Is 32:1-3, 15, 17).
“Your eyes will see the king in his beauty” (Is 33:17), “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us (Is 33:22).
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the lily it shall blossom abundantly; and rejoice with joy and singing.... They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.... Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy... Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Is 35:1-2, 3-6, 10).
The prophet Jeremiah also speaks of the Lord as King of the Nations: “There is none like thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. Who would not fear thee, O King of the Nations?” (Jer 10:6.)
And so we pray again this Advent: O King of all the nations, of all peoples, Christ Jesus the Messiah, our only Joy, Keystone, Cornerstone, come once again and save us, creatures of dust that we are!