O AntiphonsToday we begin the final days of Advent, which bring with them the beautiful O Antiphons, or “Great Antiphons”.

Years ago I made a page about these antiphons. I have intended (for years) to update the last couple days.

The O Antiphons developed during the Church’s very first centuries. The writer Boethius (+525) mentions them. By the 8th century they were in use in Rome. There are seven of these special antiphons, and their texts spring from the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures, the Prophetic and Wisdom Books. They are found in the Liturgy of the Hours or older Roman Breviary, which clerics, religious, consecrated virgins, and others use for daily prayer.

The O Antiphons are short prayers sung before and after the Magnificat, the great prayer of Mary in Luke 1:46-55 when coming visit to Elizabeth her cousin the Virgin praised God for His favor wondrous deeds. The Magnificat is sung during Vespers, evening prayer. The O Antiphons begin on 17 December, seven days before the Vigil of Christmas (24 December). The seventh and last antiphon is sung at Vespers on 23 December. They are called the “O Antiphons” because they all begin with the letter-word “O”: they address Jesus by one of His Old Testament titles. They are fervent prayers asking Our Lord to come to us.

Advent is about the many ways in which the Lord comes. He came historically at Bethlehem in the fullness of time. In the liturgical year he comes to us sacramentally. He will come again at the end of the world as Judge of the living and the dead. Christ comes to us also in the two-fold consecration of the Body and Blood of Christ by the priest at Holy Mass and, in a special way in a good Holy Communion. He comes in the person of the priest, who is alter Christus, another Christ. He comes in the words of Holy Scripture. He also comes in the person of our neighbor, especially those who are in need of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

During Advent, John the Baptist has been reminding us in the liturgy to “make straight His paths”. When we come to the Lord in death, or He comes to us in His Second Coming, He will make straight the path whether we have during our earthly lives done our best to straighten it ahead of time or not. Let us now, while we may, make straight the paths by which Christ Jesus comes.

Here are two additional notes about these O Antiphons.

The first is not apparent in English, but it can be seen clearly in the official language of the Roman Catholic Church: Latin. The Latin versions of each of the titles of the Messiah are: Sapientia (Wisdom), Adonai (Lord), Radix (Root), Clavis (Key), Oriens (Dawn), Rex (King), and Emmanuel (Emmanuel). Take the first letters of each of the titles, starting with the last and working back to the first. You spell: EROCRAS or “ero cras… I will be (there) tomorrow”.

The song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is simply a reworking of the seven O Antiphons. When you sing it, you are joining yourself to a vast throng of Christians stretching back across centuries and spanning the whole of the earth who prayed as all Christians do, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20)

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. AvantiBev says:

    I always thought it was appropriate that O Sapientia was the antiphon for December 17th, my late Daddy’s birthday. He was the wisest man I ever knew. Not just smart but WISE. Rare these days perhaps in any age.

  2. aragonjohn7 says:

    Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

  3. Dismas says:

    In light of the Year of Faith Indulgence granted by our Church in returning to the place of our baptism and renewing our baptismal vows, I recently did some research and was able to locate the Church where I was baptized. The office secretary was kind enough to locate my record. Much to my surprise and delight my baptism took place exactly 50 years ago this Sunday December 23rd. I’m able to return, God willing, to Church of my Baptism, assist at the Sacrifice of the Mass and renew my baptismal vows this Sunday during the 50th year of Vatican II on the 50th anniversary of my baptism.

    Inconceivable grace, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

  4. mamamagistra says:

    They are also used for the Gospel Acclamation in the Novus Ordo weekday Masses, although not quite in order (but in closer order than in 2011) and seemingly with the dynamic equivalent translation. Even so …

    Dec. 17: O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge. (7 – Sapientia)

    Dec. 18: O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the law to Moses on Sinai: come to rescue us with your mighty power. (6 – Adonai)

    Dec. 19: O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay! (5 – Jesse Vírgula)

    Dec. 20: O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness! (4 – Clavis Davídica)

    Dec. 21: O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God! (1 – Emmanuel)

    Dec. 22: O King of all nations and keystone of the Church; come and save man, who you formed from the dust! (2 – Rex géntium)

    Dec. 23: [n/a – Sunday]

    Dec. 24 (to make up for Sunday?): O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death. (3 – Oriens)

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