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O Antiphons – 17-23 December

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17 December marks the beginning of the "O" Antiphons, the seven jewels of our liturgy, dating back to the fourth century, one for each day until Christmas Eve.
These antiphons address Christ with seven magnificent Messianic titles, based on the Old Testament prophecies and types of Christ. The Church recalls the variety of the ills of man before the coming of the Redeemer.

Before the coming of God in the flesh, we were ignorant, subject to eternal punishment, slaves of the Devil, shackled with our sinful habits, lost in darkness, exiled from our true country. Hence the ancient antiphons announce Jesus in turn as our Teacher, our Redeemer, our Liberator, our Guide, our Enlightener and our Saviour.
-The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, trans. Ryan and Ripperger, 1941.

The antiphons beg God with mounting impatience to come and save His people.
The order of the antiphons climb climatically through our history of Redemption.

  • In the first, O Sapientia, we take a backward flight into the recesses of eternity to address Wisdom, the Word of God.
  • In the second, O Adonai, we have leaped from eternity to the time of Moses and the Law of Moses (about 1400 bc).
  • In the third, O Radix Jesse, we have come to the time when God was preparing the line of David (about 1100 bc).
  • In the fourth, O Clavis David, we have come to the year 1000.
  • In the fifth, O Oriens we see that the line of David is elevated so that the peoples may look on a rising star in the east; and hence in the sixth, O Rex Gentium, we know that He is king of all the world of man.
  • This brings us to the evening before the vigil, and before coming to the town limits of Bethlehem, we salute Him with the last Great O, O Emmanuel, God-with-us (from He Cometh by Fr McGarry).

As Elsa Chaney in Twelve Days of Christmas states, "They seem to sum up all our Advent longing as they paint in vivid terms the wretched condition of humankind and our need of a Saviour."

The "O" Antiphons are the verses for the ancient hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The first letter of the Messianic titles: Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia-spell out Latin words ERO CRAS, meaning, "Tomorrow, I will come."

The antiphons are part of the evening prayer of the Divine Office, the antiphon before and after the Magnificat. They are also the alleluia verse before the Gospel at Mass.

O Sapientia (December 17)
O Wisdom (Eccl 24: 5),
you came forth from the mouth of the Most High (Sir 24: 30), and reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly (Wis 8: 1). Come, and teach us the way of prudence (Isa 40: 14).


O Adonai
(December 18)

O Adonai or O Lord and Ruler (Exod 6: 13)
and Ruler of the house of Israel (Matt 2: 6), you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush (Exod 3: 2), and on Mount Sinai gave him your Law (Exod 20). Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us (Jer 32: 21).

O Radix Jesse (December 19)

O Root of Jesse,
you stand for the ensign of all mankind (Isa 11: 10); before you kings shall keep silence and to you all nations shall have recourse (Isa 52: 15). Come, save us, and do not delay (Hab 2: 3).

O Clavis David (December 20)

O Key of David (Apoc 3: 7)
Sceptre of the house of Israel, you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens (Isa 22: 22). Come, and deliver him from the chains of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death (Ps 107: 10).

O Oriens (December 21)

O Rising Dawn (Zac 6:12),
Radiance of the Light eternal (Hab 3: 4) and Sun of Justice (Mal 3:20); Come, enlighten those who sit in darkness & the shadow of death (Ps 107:10; Lk 1:78).

O Rex Gentium (December 22)

O King of the Gentiles (Hag 2: 8),
Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one (Eph 2: 20). Come, and save poor man whom you fashion out of clay (Gen 2: 7).

O Emmanuel (December 23)

O Emmanuel (Isa 7: 14; 8: 8),
our King and Lawgiver (Gen 49:10; cf. Ezek 21: 32), the Expected of the nations and their Saviour (Isa 33: 22): Come, and save us, O Lord our God.

© Copyright 2005 by Jennifer Gregory Miller


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