Tag Archives: O Antiphons

O Key of David

O KEY OF DAVID and Scepter of the house of Israel: You open, and no man closes; You close, and no man opens. COME,and deliver him from the chains of prison who sits 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):

Substantially, this passage is from Revelation 3:7, where Christ speaks of Himself as the “Key of David who opens and no one shuts; who shuts and no one opens.” But there is also a passage in Isaiah (22:22) which corresponds almost word-for-word with our antiphon. There the text is directed to the faithful civil ruler whom God supports: “I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder. He will open and no one will shut; he will shut, and no one will open.” The symbol of handing over the keys denotes the conferral of supreme authority. Evidently St. John borrowed the passage from Isaiah and applied it to Christ, a precedent followed by the liturgy.

Being the son of David, Christ is heir and possessor of David’s keys (i.e., his kingdom). After His resurrection, He told His apostles, “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Lastly, the petition of this antiphon is somewhat more extended than on previous days. Christ holds the keys to the prison where humanity is enchained. Redemption is described graphically in this antiphon—captive mankind sits in darkness and in the black shadows of death. May Christ the Redeemer, we plead, come and unlock this prison.

O Root of Jesse

O Root of Jesse, You stand as for an ensign of mankind; before You kings shall keep silence, and to You all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us, and do not delay!

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

The bulk of this text is taken from various sections of the book of the prophet Isaiah (cf 11:1; 11:10; 52:15). In spirit, the prophet say how Judah and the kingdom of David would be destroyed. But there would remain a holy root. From the stump of Jesse (the name of the father of King David) springs forth a twig (root), a twig that becomes a banner unto all the nations. In its presence, kings will become reverently silent, and the nations will bow down and worship. It is clear that the prophet is speaking of the Messiah. David’s royal line was dethroned with the exile, and thereafter remained shrouded in oblivion—Jesse’s stump. But with Christ, a new branch buds out of the old root; the throne of David is once more occupied. “And the angel said to Mary: The Lord God will give unto Him the throne of David His Father; and He will reign in the house of Jacob forever.” Christ is of the root of Jesse, both as a descendant of David and as occupant of the royal throne.

The antiphon sums up two aspects of the Messiah and His work. His origins may be humble and unimpressive; but His Kingdom will embrace the whole earth, drawing all nations into it, and placing high and low alike under its rule.

Now the petition: “Come, save us and do not delay!” Millions do not yet recognize the Savior’s saving insignia of the Cross; leaders, dictators, presidents, mayors do not stand in silent awe before Christ’s presence; indeed, it is till true what the psalmist sang: “the Gentiles rage, and kings rise up while princes unite against God and against His Christ.” Even in my own soul—-is Christ perfect Sovereign of every quarter of my being? “Come, Lord, save us and please do not delay!”

O Adonai

The second O Antiphon sung in keeping watch for the Lord’s Nativity:

O ADONAI [God of the covenant] and Ruler of the house of Israel, You appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and on Mt. Sinai gave him Your Law: COME, and redeem us with an outstretched arm!

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

The Second Person of the Holy Trinity had an active part in creation, as was noted in yesterday’s “O.” Now the liturgy, seeing Christ in the perspective of divinity, finds Him active in the Old Testament. Christ was the “Covenant of God” of the Chosen People. He made a covenant with Noah, with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and with Moses; He was the ruler of the Jewish people through history; two of His many appearances are mentioned in tonight’s antiphon (the burning bush and the giving of the Law midst lightning and thunder). The petition associates the deliverance from Egypt with the world-wide redemption from the bondage of sin.

The “Exodus event” is one of the most important of all of salvation history. It began when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, commissioning him to lead the Chosen People. This climaxed in the giving of the Law on Sinai. God showed Himself to His people as Defender and Redeemer, going before them “with an outstretched arm.”

This same “Exodus event” has always been regarded as a primary “type” of Christ’s work of redemption. Year after year we are brought back to these images and their fulfillment in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And today Jesus wants to enter my soul, to be its Ruler and Lawgiver. Christian life means following Christ. Christ wants to be my Law; without Him, there is no Kingdom of God. He wants to redeem me “with an outstretched arm,” but can do so only on condition that I unite my will to His. Listen, O my soul, to His direction!

O Wisdom

Tonight, we began a more discernible and final stretch in our preparations, our keeping watch, for the Nativity of the Lord with the singing of the “O” Antiphons at Vespers. There are seven special texts –antiphons– sung at the time we sing the Magnificat. The monks and guests here at St Louis Abbey (where I am visiting until tomorrow) sang the antiphon in Latin but here it the first antiphon in English:

O Wisdom,You came forth from the mouth of the Most High, You reach from beginning to end, ordering all things mightily and sweetly: COME, and teach us the way of prudence!

For your time in Lectio I would recommend praying with the O Antiphons. Even sing them as a way of praying with the text. If you need the music go to the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Please keep in mind, that each antiphon contains one or more Old Testament type or figure; and that each allusion has a message for those of us in the New Covenant. The OT shapes, it forms and informs our understanding of the person of Jesus we come to know in the NT. Biblical typology is crucial for Christians when reading, praying and studying the sacred Scriptures.

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

In today’s O, we are pointed to the many praises of “Wisdom” in the Old Testament. One of the various senses in which the word is used refers to the divine attribute of wisdom, which is at times personified. Accordingly, we read of wisdom as proceeding from God, as being begotten of Him, as the breath of His power, the effusion of His glory. Wisdom is the beloved daughter who at the beginning of creation stood before God, assisting in the creation of the visible universe. From this concept of Wisdom, there later developed the doctrine of the LOGOS (the Word) in St. John’s Gospel.

But wisdom is also represented as a human attribute, as the foundation of all virtue. It is not so much knowledge and human prudence as knowing how to live—that is, true holiness. Its ultimate root is the fear of God (“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”), its final goal is divine knowledge and love. The first part of today’s antiphon is from the book of Sirach (24:3); the second part is from the Book of Wisdom (8:1). In highly poetic phraseology, the origin and co-creative activity of wisdom are portrayed.

The text continues with the creative activity of the Son of God. St. John says in the Prologue to his Gospel: “All things were made by Him (the LOGOS) and without Him was made nothing that was made.” And St. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “In Him (i.e., Christ) were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” (Col. 1:16) Hence, according to the NT, Christ (as the pre-mundane LOGOS) is the Creator and archetype of the material universe. How beautifully our antiphon describes the LOGOS as wisdom, encompassing and ordering all things!

It is the object of this antiphon to portray the NT Creator of the invisible spiritual world, rather than the Maker of the visible universe around us. In His Church and in the soul, “He reaches from beginning to end!” “Come, teach us the way of prudence!” What an all-embracing petition! Make us perfect Christians—Christians who are wholly penetrated with the leaven of Christ…who combine strength with gentleness, strong in battle against the world and ourselves.

The Greater Antiphons, the Church’s prophetic utterances…


Antiphons O.jpgThe tradition of the “O Antiphons” is now upon us. We will hear them beginning tonight at Vespers.


ERO CRAS is a convenient nemonic device, meaning, “tomorrow, I will come.”


During the 8 days before Christmas, the Church has collected, one for each
night, a biblical verse from the Advent Prophets Isaiah and Micah (that is, an “antiphon”)
that is known to be prophetic of the birth of Jesus; each notes a title of the
Messiah. Each offers us a key to understand the gift of the Messiah promised through the use of typology.

The Octave of Advent begins on December 17th and concludes on the 23rd.
Seven different antiphons are traditionally sung prior to and following the
Magnificat during Vespers as part of the Divine Office (the Liturgy of the
Hours). The eighth day of the octave is Christmas Eve, so Vespers for that
evening is the Christmas Vigil. Each antiphon begins with the word, “O” in the
incipit. Hence, “O Antiphons.” 
Most of us are familiar with the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come,
Emmanuel,” the content of which the O Antiphons form the structure Vespers at
this time of the liturgical year.


The Church always distinguishes what she
says and since in our theology we derive our belief from the manner in which we
pray, the O Antiphons give ample food for what we belief the Messiah to be, who
he is. Secularism gives the world an emasculated Santa Claus but the Church
gives us a Messiah. He is known through his titles, that is, his activities. In
the final stretch before Christmas use this time to pray with the O Antiphons:
they provide a beautiful framework for reflection before the Nativity.

Past Communio blog entries here, here and here.

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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