Advent Resource: The O Antiphons (Dec 17 – 23)

17 Dec

 

Each year, beginning with December 17th and continued through December 23rd, the Church celebrates a centuries old countdown towards the coming of the feast of Christmas through its daily singing of the “O Antiphons.” The “O Antiphons” seemed to have begun in the 7th century for use during the Vespers (evening) prayer and were sung before and after the Magnificat during this period; one verse being sung as a form of meditation on the significance and meaning of the coming of Jesus Christ as a fulfillment of the deepest longings not only of the Jewish people, but that of all human heart. The original melody was lost but have been kept alive through the beautiful Latin hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

A different antiphon is sung and associated with each day during this time, each representing a short scriptural meditation of a few lines long. Each centers on a particular messianic title and ends with a prayerful petition related to the meaning of that title. Each antiphon reads as an inspired jewel of poetry that should serve for Christians as a kind of mantra. Prayerfully meditating upon them can lead us into delving ever deeper into the rich meaning of the mystery of the Incarnation for ourselves and for the world.

Here is a list of the O Antiphons according to the day on which each is celebrated. Following each is an English translation of the original Latin verse associated with each antiphon. Also note that related scriptural verses are provided.

Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7

 

The themes of the “O Antiphons” (see the illustration above for these) are drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures, mainly from images found in the prophet Isaiah, although in a couple one finds allusions to stories found in the books of Genesis and Exodus. In a little Advent / Christmas pamphlet I have used since I was a child, we find a this helpful explanation concerning the order in which the O Antiphons are celebrated by a Jesuit priest named Fr. William J. McGarry, S.J.:

There is a climactic order in these antiphons. In the first, O Sapentia [i.e., Latin for “O Wisdom”], we take a backward flight into the recesses of eternity to address Wisdom, the Word of God. In the second, O Adonai [Latin for “O Lord], we have leaped from eternity to the time of Moses and the Law of Moses (about 1400 B.C.). In the third, O Radix Jesse [Latin for “O Root of Jesse”], we have come to the time when God was preparing the line of David (about 1100 B.C.). In the fourth, O Clovis David [Latin for “O Key of David”], we have come to the year 1000. In the fifth, O Oriens [Latin for “O Rising Dawn”], 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 [Latin for “O King of Nations], we know that He is a king of all the world of [humankind}. The brings us to the evening before the vigil [of Christmas], and before coming to the town limits of Bethlehem, we salute Him [i.e., Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God and descendant of David] with the last Great O, O Emmanuel, God-with-us.” [This passage quoted from Fr. McGarry’s book “He Cometh” in the pamphlet entitled  Family Advent Customs, 1954 Liturgical Press]

In other words, the O Antiphons present us with survey of salvation history as it is presented in biblical revelation, and helps us to appreciate God’s providential preparation for the coming of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas time.

December 17 – O Wisdom (O Sapientia)

O wisdom, coming forth from the Most High, filling all creation and reigning to the ends of the earth; come and teach us the way  of truth.

Gen 1: 1-2; Isaiah 11: 2-3; Ecclesiasticus 24.3-9; Proverbs 1:20; 8; 9 and 1 Corinthians 1:30

18 December – O Adonai – O Lord of might

O Lord of Lords, and ruler of the House of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and gave him the law on Sinai: come with your outstretched arm and ransom us.

Exodus 3.1-6; Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6

Dec 19 – O Radix Jesse – O Root of Jesse

O root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the nations; kings will keep silence before you for whom the nations long; come and save us and delay no longer.

Isaiah 11.1-4,10; Romans 15:12; Revelation 5:5

Dec 20 – O Clavis David – O Key of David

O key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and none can shut; you shut and none can open: come and free the captives from prison, and break down the walls of death.
Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7

21 December – O Oriens – O Dawn

O morning star, splendour of the light eternal and bright sun of righteousness: come and bring light to those who dwell in darkness and walk in the shadow of death.
Numbers 24.15b-17; Luke 1:78, 79; Malachi 4:2

Dec 22 – O Rex Gentium – O King of Nations

O king of the nations, you alone can fulfil their desires: cornerstone, binding all together: come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust of the earth.
Jeremiah 30.7-11a; Revelation 15:3; Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; I Peter 2:6

23 December – O Emmanuel – God-With-Us

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, hope of the nations and their saviour: come and save us, O Lord our God.
Isaiah 7:14; 8:8; Matthew 1:23; Haggai 2:7

Some suggestions for Praying the O Antiphons:

1. Each night my family will gather round the Advent wreath for time of shared reflection, prayer and singing. Beginning with Dec. 17th, we will chant the first verse from “O Come O Come, Emmanuel.” Each day thereafter we will add a verse to our singing so that by the time we reach December 23rd, we will be singing the verses corresponding to each of the O Antiphons.

2. Each day during this period, my family also has a tradition of taking turns in composing prayers of petition that are directly inspired by each of the O Antiphons, which we offer to God on behalf of ourselves, others we know, and the for situations in the world-at-large,

For example, after singing the first O Antiphon and reflecting on its meaning, someone might be inspired to pray in a manner similar to the following:

“O Lord, your Spirit hovered over creation at the beginning of time, miraculously bringing forth this universe by your Word out of the swirls of chaos. We beg that today you once again pour forth your creative Spirit  and holy Wisdom upon humankind so that we might be shown the path to peace and harmony, even as we live in a world torn by strife and violence. Amen.”

3. If you are a little more ambitious, I would share the following idea with you… While doing some research in preparation for today’s post, I serendipitously ran across a wonderful blog site called Everyday Liturgy (which I highly recommend you check out) where its author, Thom Turner, has composed his own paraphrase of the O Antiphons. Like me, I’m sure that you will agree that these are marvelously rich theological meditations.

Here is Mr. Turner’s new translation :

December 17 – O Wisdom (O Sapientia)

O Wisdom, coming to us as the voice of God,
The rushing wind of your voice hovers over the earth,
calling us back to the peacefulness of Eden.
Come now and teach us discernment.

December 18 – O Lord (O Adonai)

O Lord of your chosen people, you have spoken to us
through prophets. Through burning bushes and flaming tongues
you have given us your law: to love God and love others.
Come with your outstretched arms and bring salvation to all.

December 19 – O Root of Jesse (O Radix Jesse)

O Root of Jesse, out of you springs up the kingdom of God.
No other kings or nations have the power you possess,
so they keep silent before you and the witness of your kingdom.
Come with your kingdom now and save us.

December 20 – O Key of David (O Clavis David)

O Messiah, King of the Jews, you have given us the mysteries
of God and taught us the way of your kingdom. When someone
knocks you give to them freely and without reservation.
Come now and free those who are held captive by darkness.

December 21 – O Morning Star (O Oriens)

O Morning Star, bright light, eternal dawn, sun of justice,
shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow
of death; be our guide on the path of righteousness.
Come now and show us the light that brings eternal joy.

December 22 – O King of the Gentiles (O Rex Gentium)

O King of the Gentiles, the object of our desire,
you are the rock on which the church has been built.
You graft your chosen people together in one body.
Come now and save us who are but dirt and clay.

December 23 – O God-who-is-with-us (O Emmanuel)

O God-who-is-with-us, our coming king, composer of justice,
the nations will gather and bow down to you
who will come to judge the living and the dead.
Come now and save us, our God in the flesh.

For your personal time of prayer during Dec 17-23, you might consider doing one of two things:

  • meditate and pray over Thom’s new translation of the O Antiphons, focusing on one verse each day;
  • alternately, after reading his, you could try your own hand at writing a paraphrase for each O Antiphon, much like what Thom Turner has done himself. By doing so, you can overcome the barrier of familiarity by gaining a fresher and, perhaps, deeper insight into the meaning of the O Antiphons.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

I sincerely hope you find the closing days of Advent marked by a spirit of prayer, conversion, and Advent joy! And I am happy that you stopped by my blog!

Maranatha! Come Lord, Jesus! Come!

Tom Webber

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3 Responses to “Advent Resource: The O Antiphons (Dec 17 – 23)”

  1. Thomas December 20, 2010 at 10:06 am #

    Tom,

    Thanks to linking to my paraphrases of the O Antiphons. If you use them or know any one else who does let me know. I welcome the feedback.

    —Thom

    • texastom46 December 20, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

      Hi Thom:

      Actually, not too far above where your comment is on my blog you will find that I included your O Antiphon paraphrases, along with both a mention you as being the author, along with a link to your site. The link is found by hovering the cursor over the title of your blog “Everyday Liturgy.”

      Once again, thank your for sharing them, and encouraging others to use them. Your work deserves a wide audience.

      Advent blessings, and Merry Christmas!

      Tom Webber (aka Texas Tom)

  2. Creentadele December 30, 2010 at 1:06 am #

    Just popping in to say nice site.

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