“The ‘O’ What-iphons?”
If you’re like me, that was your response to the above title. If you already knew what they are, then consider this your reminder for this year.
I only learned about the “O” Antiphons last October when I was scouring the web for Advent craft ideas. They’re a procrastinator’s dream Advent devotion, lasting only the week before Christmas. When I was given Magnificat’s Advent Companion for this year as a gift and found that the “O”s were in the included prayers, I decided that I had better give them a shot. It’s part of my Advent renewal that I mentioned in my last blog post. Now, I’d like to welcome you to them as well, in the hopes that you’ll join me.
The “O”s amaze me in their beauty. Both in the words, and how they are artfully crafted into Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. The “O” Antiphons are prayed daily from December 17th to 23rd. According to Magnificat, the texts for these prayers are traced back to at least 7th century (that’s the year 600-ish) Europe and “are drenched in biblical allusions, offering a rich source for personal prayer and reflection during these final days of preparation for the celebration of Christmas.”
These are the titles of the seven “O” Antiphons in Latin, (English in parenthesis):
- December 17 – O Sapientia (Wisdom)
- December 18 – O Adonai (Lord)
- December 19 – O Radix Jess (Root of Jesse)
- December 20 – O Clavis David (Key of David)
- December 21 – O Oriens (Dayspring)
- December 22 – O Rex Gentium (King of Nations)
- December 23 – O Emmanuel (God-with-us)
This order is not random. It was arranged by the Benedictines so that the first letter of each antiphon, in reverse, reads “ERO CRAS” which means “I will be with you tomorrow.”
In the Liturgy, the Antiphons are the Gospel Acclamations (the phrase between the Alleluias) for each respective day(*).
- O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
- O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
- O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
- O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
- 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!
- O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
- O Emmanuel, our King, and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!
*These aren’t verbatim from the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal. So, I would allow for a few possible discrepancies.
Each one is a petition to God for salvation (in the form of various biblical titles for Christ). They’re so poetic to me because of their duality: a prayer calling upon the promised Messiah whose arrival on Earth we joyfully await to celebrate each year, and also for the second coming we all anticipate.
How to Pray the “O” Antiphons
I don’t think there is a right way or a wrong way to pray the “O”s. A quick Google search turned up several sites, each with a different variation of the devotion. I want to help you find something that works for you, so here’s a list with a few suggestions.
- Daily Mass – If you don’t go already, see if you can make a one week stretch of it. Since the “O” Antiphons are included in the Mass, it’s a two-birds-one-stone-scenario. I think a careful meditation on the acclamation after receiving communion would be a great way to top it off.
- Praying them as they appear in the Liturgy of the Hours – The antiphons are in Evening Prayer for these days as the antiphon for the Magnificat. If Evening Prayer is too much for you, just recite the antiphon for the day, the Magnificat, and repeat the antiphon.
- Read the correlating biblical texts – Since each of the antiphons refers to a title for Christ given by the prophets, reflect on that particular writing. The verses can be found at this page: http://fisheaters.com/customsadvent10.html
- Incorporate it into any other form of your family’s traditions – Maybe you have a Jesse Tree, or pray together every night when lighting your Christmas Tree or Advent Wreath. Including this as one more verse, is a great way to squeeze it in.
The “O” Antiphons
O Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence!
O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm!
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliver us, do not tarry.
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Sun of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!
O King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Corner-stone, that makest of two one, come to save man, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!
O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!
My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For He hath regarded the humility of His handmaiden. For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is His Name. And His Mercy is from generation unto generations upon them that fear Him. He hath shewed might in His arm, He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel, His servant, being mindful of His mercy. As He spoke to our Fathers, Abraham and His seed forever.
O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.
O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
Magnificat anima mea Dominum, et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salvatore meo, quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae. Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes, quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est, et sanctum Nomen eius, et misericordia eius in progenies et progenies timentibus eum. Fecit potentiam in brachio suo, dispersit superbos mente cordi sui; deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles; esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes. Suscepit Israel puerum suum, recordatus misericordiae, sicut locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semini eius in saecula.