What are the “O Antiphons” of Advent?
Written by The Station of the Cross on December 22, 2021
Starting December 17, the season of Advent gets even more intense with anticipation. The Church has chosen special Antiphons and Readings for the following week to help prepare the world for the coming of Christ. The “O Antiphons” are a set of antiphons for Vespers that are prayed for the seven days.
The reason why they are called the “O Antiphons” is because each of them starts with the letter “O”. In the Liber Usualis, they are called the “Great Antiphons”. The texts of these antiphons are from the Old Testament Prophetic and Wisdom Books. These antiphons are recited or sung before and after the Magnificat, or the Canticle of Mary. Each of the antiphons begins by naming a title of Christ.
December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
This antiphon is from Isaiah 11:2-3.
At God’s word, creation was formed; the Word issued from the mouth of God, the Son, came to earth; we ask prudence to keep on the paths of wisdom to come to His Kingdom. When Jesus comes, He ushers in a renewal of creation. He pervades and permeates all creation with His mighty re-ordering of the world that will one day be free from sin.
December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
This antiphon is from Isaiah 11:4-5 and 33:22.
God fulfilled His promises and redeemed the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt, and also unveiled the Law at Sinai; Jesus redeems mankind from the bondage of sin and bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Parousia, Christ’s Second Coming, is often seen as the fullness of Pentecost.
December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
This antiphon is from Isaiah 11:1.
Jesse’s tree was cut down to the root, with only the stump remaining. Jesus revitalizes that root as the eternal Son of God because He is the source of Jesse’s line, realized in David the King. As the Incarnate Word made flesh, Jesus is both the rightful heir to the throne of David and the root that supplied strength and power to that line of kings in the first place.
December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
O Key of David,
Opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
Come and free the prisoners of darkness!
This antiphon is from Isaiah 22:22.
Paradise was closed by the sin of Adam, but Jesus re-opens it with His Redemption. At the end of time there will be no more sin or obstructions to the Kingdom of God. Jesus possesses this incomparable key of David. Since the fall, death has locked humanity in, but by His resurrection, Jesus unlocked death forever and opened to us the way of everlasting life.
December 21: O Oriens (O Radiant Dawn)
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.
This antiphon is from Isaiah 9:1.
The prophets begged for deliverance from the darkness of death, which Jesus accomplished at His resurrection as the new Rising Sun. Looking ahead to Christmas, we can see a connection to the Christmas Day Gospel reading from John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Throughout Advent, we see Jesus bringing His light into our darkness when we light a new candle each week to mark His nearness.
December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of Nations)
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
Come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
This antiphon is from Isaiah 2:4.
Israel in exile longed for the Kingdom of God; Jesus, King of Nations, extends this Kingdom to all peoples, Jews and Gentiles alike. At the end of time, Jesus will draw all things to Himself and His Kingdom will be fulfilled. Jesus is the cornerstone who is rejected and crucified, yet in that rejection He unites all people by His blood.
December 23: O Emmanuel (O Emmanuel/God With Us)
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
Come to save us, Lord our God!
This antiphon is from Isaiah 7:14.
The sacred name revealed to Israel of Who was to come was fulfilled by Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, and His enduring presence. As we journey through this Advent season, may we remember that we are not alone. Jesus is with us as Light in the darkness, as Wisdom, Lord, King, Root of Jesse, and Key of David. We pray these prayers fervently, calling on Jesus to come among us.
If you take the first letters of each of the titles and spell them out from the last one, you will get: “ERO CRAS.” These Latin words mean “I will be (there) tomorrow.” As we sing the words and images of the prophets, we join their cry for the coming of the Savior who will bring the redemption of all creation.
For more details on this beautiful Advent tradition, please listen to this recent podcast from Mother Miriam Live and don’t forget to visit The Station of the Cross for more authentic Catholic media content.
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