Tag Archives: O Antiphons

The O Antiphons have meaning

Today, the monasteries around the world make their solemn entrance into the last week of preparation before Christmas. . .the first of the great O Antiphons begins to be sung at the time of the Magnificat. These beautiful antiphons, pregnant with meaning, are true bearers of Advent hope and joy.

In them, according to a French liturgist, the liturgy of Advent finds its fullness and plenitude. The O Antiphons are extremely significant to both the Advent and the monastic liturgy. The rich spiritual content of the antiphons is invaluable, starting with the one we solemnly sing today which opens : O Wisdom, O holy word of God’s mouth. . .

Br. Victor-Antoine D’Avila  Latourrette, OSB
A Monastery Journey to Christmas

O Antiphons

o-wisdomThe days before Christmas are typically marked by naming the titles that Jesus bears. The music for the antiphons is terrific. Each of the seven “O Antiphons” (also called the “Greater Antiphons” or “Major Antiphons”) come from the Magnificat antiphon for Vespers during the Octave before Christmas Eve, a time which is called the “Golden Nights.”

Each Antiphon begins with “O” and addresses Jesus with a unique title which comes from the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah, and whose initials, when read backwards, form an acrostic for the Latin “Ero Cras” which means “Tomorrow I come.” Those titles for Christ are:

Starting tonight, we begin with Sapientia; tomorrow and the days ahead we move on to: Adonai, Radix Jesse, Clavis David, Oriens, Rex Gentium, Emmanuel

The O Antiphons in both English and Latin:

December 17

Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence!

O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.

December 18

Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm!

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

December 19

Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliver us, do not tarry.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

December 20

Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

December 21

Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Sun of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!

O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

December 22

King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Corner-stone, that makest of two one, come to save man, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

December 23

Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.

O Emmanuel

O EMMANUEL [God with us], our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of nations and their Savior: COME,and save us, O Lord our God!

The following commentary adapted from The Church’s Year of Grace, Fr Pius Parsch (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1959):

In the previous six antiphons, our cry was directed to the Messiah as He manifested Himself to the Chosen People, to the Gentiles, and in nature; now He is addressed in person and asked to remain with us as Emmanuel. Reading this final antiphon gives the feeling that a climax has indeed come. The very term Emmanuel [God with us] reveals the kindly, human heart of Jesus–He wants to be one of us, a Child of Man, with all our human weaknesses and suffering; He wants to experience how hard it is to be human. He wants to remain with us to the end of time; He wants to dwell within us, to make us sharers of His nature.

Besides the main title, the Savior is invoked by four other names.

(1) King and Lawgiver are common enough, and the combination is found in Isaiah 32:22: “The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver; the Lord is our King. He will save us.” This is a joyous expression of faith and confidence. Christ functions in all these roles for our benefit. Whatever a lawgiver like Moses, a judge like Samuel, a king like David, accomplished for the good and glory of their people, that and far more the expected Savior will accomplish for us.

(2) The Messiah is next hailed as the expectation of the Gentiles and their Savior. Remember Jacob’s dying words: “The scepter will not pass from Judah, nor a ruler from his thigh, till He comes that is to be sent. He is the expectation of all the nations.” (Genesis 49:10)

The antiphon petitions: COME AND SAVE US! King, let me be Your vassal; Lawgiver, let me be Your servant; Expected Savior, let my longings be fulfilled in You. Our song closes with the words, “O Lord our God!” It is a phrase summarizing all the names and titles used in the O-Antiphons. May our hearts be always so disposed as to use the invocations sincerely and confidently.

O King of the Nations

O KING OF THE NATIONS and the Desired of all, You are the cornerstone binding the two [i.e., Jew and Gentile] into one: COME, and save poor man, whom You fashioned out of clay.

The following commentary adapted from The Church’s Year of Grace, Fr Pius Parsch (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1959):

Previous antiphons in this series stemmed from a Jewish background. The Messiah would be the fulfillment of Israel’s expectations, and Christians are the “wild vine” grafted onto the original vine of the Chosen People. In several of the antiphons, there are allusions to the conversion of the Gentiles, but this sixth antiphon is the first to address the Savior as “King of the nations and the Desired of ALL.” The reference to the “cornerstone” is to Isaiah 28:16, “Behold, I will lay a stone as the foundation of Zion, a tested stone, a cornerstone, precious and firmly set; if one believes, he will not be shaken.” On occasion, Christ called Himself the cornerstone (c.f. Matthew 21:42), indicating that He is the foundation, the spiritual support of the Church.

In our antiphon, however, the clause that follows indicates a function in reference to the Gentiles: the Messiah will be a cornerstone uniting both Jew and Gentile. This thought is from Ephesians 2:14, where Christ is called the peace-maker between Jew and Gentile, breaking down the wall of enmity between them.

The petition calls for the salvation of all humanity, which has its creation from the clay of the earth as a common bond. The antiphon should call all of us to work for the spread of the Gospel to all who have not yet heard it.

O Dayspring

O DAYSPRING, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice: COME,and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

The following commentary adapted from The Church’s Year of Grace, Fr Pius Parsch (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1959):

Not sacred history but nature inspires today’s “O.” The sun as a symbol of Christ is one of the finest figures in Sacred Scripture and in the liturgy. And never is the metaphor more beautifully worded or more expressive of an entire season’s liturgy than in our present antiphon.

Three metaphors link the Redeemer to the sun:

(1) He is the Rising Dawn;

(2) He is the Radiance of the Light Eternal;

(3) He is the Sun of Justice.

The expression “rising dawn” (aka “dayspring”) occurs in Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12. Perhaps more familiar to Christians from its daily use in the Benedictus at Morning Prayer is the expression “Oriens ex alto,” the “dayspring from on high.” In spirit, the aged priest Zechariah beheld Christ rising as the sun “to enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” The verse is incorporated in today’s “O.” Christ is the Rising Sun that disperses spiritual darkness and death. From the sun in the sky comes light and life; from Christ the divine Sun likewise comes light and life. Remember how Jesus called Himself the light and the life of the world.

The title “Radiance of the Light eternal” is found in Hebrews 1:3. It is a reference to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. “Light eternal” is a reference to God the Father; “Radiance of the Light eternal” describes the eternal and consubstantial origin of the Son from the Father. In the Creed, we say, “Lumen de Lumine,” light from light. Thus the antiphon’s first phrase brought out Christ’s relation to the world and to men, while this second one tells of the inner divine relationship of Christ to the Father.

“Sun of Justice!” These words depict the Messiah in Malachi 4:2. Christ is the Sun, emitting the rays of justice (i.e., holiness and grace). What the sun does for the realm of nature, that Christ as the Sun of Grace does for the kingdom of God.

In the closing petition, we ask Christ to enlighten us by His birth. Even in us, the faithful, there is still much darkness, much of death’s shadow. Open your soul and let the divine light shine in!

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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