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The “O” Antiphons

Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2016

The “O” Antiphons

At this stage in Advent (now 3 weeks in), one wonders whether there is any point in taking on an Advent discipline or "living into" the season of Advent, if one isn't already doing so. I sometimes find myself asking this question—even priests aren't immune from "running behind," liturgically speaking. Is it possible to play catch-up on Advent in the middle of December, and be attentive to this season as we watch and wait for the coming of the Lord?

The short answer: absolutely. One way to do this is by taking up the practice of praying the "O Antiphons", beginning on December 17. The O Antiphons are an ancient series of prayers, stretching back possibly to as early as 380 A.D., which were prayed during the Vespers office for seven days leading up to Christmas Eve. These Antiphons are commonly known to us through the great Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," and each Antiphon references a way that Christ is named in Old Testament Scripture.

How can the O Antiphons be used as an Advent practice? The answer varies—make it as simple or as complex as you would like it to be. Starting December 17 (this Saturday), you could simply pray the relevant Antiphon as part of your mealtime prayer at the breakfast / lunch / dinner table. If you wish, you could even sing it using a verse from the Advent hymn. Or, if it is your practice to say the Daily Office, you could include it as one of the prayers within the context of Morning or Evening Prayer. Throughout the day, you could make it a discipline to keep the Antiphon in your mind, on your lips, and in your heart.

For all those who are interested in this practice, here is a metrical reproduction of the O Antiphons from the hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" (hymn #56 in the Hymnal 1982):

The O Antiphons

December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)—O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.

December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)—O come, O come, thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times didst give the law in cloud and majesty and awe.

December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)—O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, free them from Satan’s tyranny; that trust thy mighty power to save, and give them victory o’er the grave.

December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)—O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)—O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of Nations)—O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace.

December 23: O Emmanuel (O God-with-us)—O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

— Daniel+

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