This Thursday, December 17, the Church will begin praying what are known as the “O Antiphons” each evening during Vespers, or Evening Prayer. Outside of Vespers, the O Antiphons are more familiar in their adapted form as the verses for the quintessential Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Saturated with imagery from the Old Testament, the O Antiphons each highlight a different title of the Messiah. They intensify our preparations for the final days of Advent as they remind us with vivid clarity and luminous beauty of the reality that the Messiah is coming. Our God is coming to save us from death. From sin. From fear. From loneliness. From ourselves. And he is coming as Wisdom (Sapientia), as Lord (Adonai), as Flower (Radix), as Key (Clavis), as Dawn (Oriens), as King (Rex), as God-with-us (Emmanuel). The One whom the prophets foretold, the One for whom countless hearts have longed, upon whom innumerable eyes have yearned to gaze—he is coming. Indeed, the antiphons themselves tell us so: the first letters of each Messianic title form a reverse acrostic, spelling out the words “Ero cras”: Tomorrow, I will come.
In this final week of Advent, as we turn our attention to the last-minute rush to get ready for Christmas, it can be easy to grow slack in the zeal of preparing for the coming of Christ. Praying the O Antiphons—either by listening to musical settings like those on our Advent playlist or by reflecting on their texts through the free resource available below—is a beautiful way to guard against this, to stay awake, to stand alert, to be found ready when God’s “all-powerful Word from heaven’s throne [will leap] into the doomed land” and reconcile all things by his coming (see Wisdom 18:15ff).
Visit our website to download a free ebook containing theological reflections on each of the O Antiphons!
Marantha. Come, Lord Jesus.
Featured image from The Poissy Antiphonal (1335–1345); PD-OLD.