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O Magnum, Mysterium!

by Victoria Tkachuk  
2/25/2007 / Family


Getting through weekday mornings was always a challenge in our house. Not necessarily for us sisters (of whom there were three, and all within a few years of one another), but for Mom and Dad. First off, my sisters and I had equal aversion to anything taking place in the first few hours of the day. Secondly, bathroom time was distributed on a 'first come, first served' basis. But the biggest problem was simply getting us up (not merely awake, but physically out of bed) and going. My sisters and I were (and perhaps still are!) a bit prickly in the morning. The task of raising us from unconsciousness seemed to fall on Dad the most often, though I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was his undeniably effective strategies for doing so.

Sometimes Dad's routine consisted of rapid exposure to chilly Minnesota breeze (present even indoors in winter) a la blanket stealing. Other times there was a competition introduced, which could be anything from, "Mom made something special for breakfast so you'd better get down there soon!" to "I'm going to use the bathroom and afterward, well, you might not want to go in there awhile." Being naturally competitive with each other certainly helped spur my sisters and I on, but there were days where we just couldn't get out of bed because we were so tired we might collapse if we did! (Or so we claimed.) What was Dad to do then? There was still one move left in the sneaky Dad bag of wake-you-up tricks; a little ditty by the name of, "O Magnum, Mysterium."

I'm laughing as I type this, remembering Dad's deep bass bellow through the hallway: "O Magnum, Mysterium!" I wasn't laughing back then! This was definitely not my preferred way to start the day. I didn't have the foggiest clue what this song was about, or who originally sang it, or why Dad liked it so much. All I remember thinking back then was, "The faster I get out of bed, the sooner he will stop singing!" And Dad would oblige. That is, until he realized he could use this form of melodic blitz not just to get us out of bed, but to make us move down the hallway, the stairs and out the door that much quicker.

When I recalled this particular memory of Dad I realized I had never given much thought to why he chose this song over any other. Surely he must have had some reason for choosing it? And yet, I've never taken the time to ask him why he liked "O Magnum" so much. Perhaps I will finally do so this year. In preparation, I did a little research and discovered this is a beautiful hymn, with mighty lyrics! The Latin lyrics are as follows:

O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum
Ut animalia viderent Dominum natum
Jacentem in proesepio.

O beata virgo, cujus viscera me ruerunt portare
Dominum Jesum Christum
Alleluja!

Translated into our less-than-poetic English it looks like this:

O Great mystery and wondrous sacrament,
That animal might see the birth of the Lord
As He lay in the manger.

O, Blessed Virgin,
Who was worthy of bearing
Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Alleluia!

Reading the English translation is akin to consulting the NIV after reading something in the King James; it's the same meaning, but just not as pretty. Read these lyrics, though, and understand both their simplicity and their weight. There is but one subject: the mystery of God's goodness toward us. This is noted first by the lyricist in his noting that we animals were included at the birth of our Savior, as witnesses. This fact is a wondrous sacrament, that we, even as fallen people, could be there! The lyricist continues, praising the blessedness of Mary, who was worthy of bearing the Christ child. That there have been many God has chosen to carry out His works- Alleluia!

The importance of Dad's choosing "O Magnum Mysterium" was always, well, a mystery to me. I speculate now that the message it sends us- we fallen people have a God so good that He includes us in His plans- is one we ought to sing to ourselves every day.

If you reprint my article to a website, please e-mail me to let me know: velcrotkachuk@gmail. I'm trying to keep track for my portfolio. Thanks!

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