Advent slightly shifts its focus beginning tomorrow (December 17) when the antiphons for Vespers known
as the Greater Antiphons, but more commonly known as the O Antiphons, are sung.
These biblical texts are sung as the verse introducing the
Magnificat song at Vespers. Most people know these Great Antiphons as the hymn
called “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (Veni, Veni, Emmánuël). Each verse of the hymn is a reworded
version of the O Antiphons, with the last being the first verse. Rather unfortunately too many priests and church musicians/choir leaders have little understanding of why one would hold off from signing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” at Mass until this time of Advent, and even then, why one would spread the verses out over the days ahead. (I wonder if we can get our act together to respect the Liturgy and its history to allow the flourishing of the theology to dig more deeply into our hearts and minds.)
Each O Antiphon
addresses Jesus with a title which comes from the prophecies of Isaiah that
anticipate the coming of the Messiah. The first letters of the titles in the
original Latin in reverse order spell “Ero Cras,” meaning “Tomorrow, I will
December 17 – O Sapiéntia: O Wisdom Who camest out of the mouth of the
Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and
sweetly: come and teach us the way of prudence.
December 18 – O Adonái: O
Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel, Who didst appear to Moses in the
flame of the burning bush, and didst give unto him the law on Sinai: come and
with an outstretched arm redeem us.
December 19 – O Radix Jesse: O Root of
Jesse, Who standest for an ensign of the people, before Whom kings shall keep
silence, and unto Whom the Gentiles shall make their supplication: come to
deliver us, and tarry not.
December 20 – O Clavis David: O Key of David, and
Sceptre of the house of Israel, Who openest and no man shutteth, Who shuttest
and no man openeth: come and bring forth from his prison-house, the captive
that sitteth in darkness and in the shadow of death.
December 21 – O Óriens: O
Dawn of the East, Brightness of the light eternal, and Sun of justice: come and
enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
December 22 – O
Rex Gentium: O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of them, Thou Corner-stone
that makest both one: come and deliver man, whom Thou didst form out of the
dust of the earth.
December 23 – O Emmánuël: O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver,
the Expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.