The “O” Antiphons
Throughout Advent, we are invited to rejoice in the goodness and glory of God. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:2). In a particular way, the Church reflects upon the names for God that tell the story of our salvation through the gift of his Son to us by praying what are known as the “O Antiphons” as we approach the final week before the celebration of Christmas. Each day from December 17th to the 23rd, in the Gospel antiphon at Mass and in the antiphon before the Magnificat in Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, we pray the O Antiphons. This has been a practice in the Church since the eighth century. However, most people probably know the O Antiphons in their modified form in the familiar verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” which we sing in Advent.
An antiphon is essentially a verse from scripture that encapsulates the fundamental thought of the prayer that follows. The O Antiphons, so named because each begins with, “O,” specifically speak to the joyous hope of Israel for the coming of the Messiah found in the prophecy of Isaiah, and they remind us of the magnificent titles by which we call our Lord and God. Through them we tell the story of the birth of Our Savior, Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, who became truly man so that he might save us from sin and its bitter effects, thus enabling us to share in His divine nature and know eternal life. This is the mystery of the Incarnation, the central teaching of Christianity – that Jesus Christ is truly God and he really became man.
To say that Jesus is the eternal Son of God means that he has from eternity the same nature as the Father. He is literally “one in being” with the Father. He is what the Father is: “Light from Light, true God from true God.” With the Father, he is the wisdom and love that made the world and keeps it in existence. Yet, he is a person distinct from the person of the Father, he proceeds from the Father eternally, perfectly mirroring the splendor of the Father.
By praying the O Antiphons, we can meditate on how Jesus led his followers to realize the tremendous mystery of his divinity. They first saw the glory of his humanity; they experienced his power and his wisdom and his goodness. Gently Jesus led them to recognize that he is the Messiah, the long awaited Savior who was spoken of throughout salvation history, and finally that he is indeed Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14) . This coming week, I invite you to pray the O Antiphons and allow the Lord to gently lead you to a deeper understanding of what it means to sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
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!