Beginning the O Antiphons

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Dec 16, 2016

I’m interrupting my Jesse Tree posts because the O Antiphons begin tomorrow, December 17. This is one of my favorite parts of the Liturgical Year and so I try to not let a year pass without writing something about them. (My apologies for the delay on the Jesse Tree Part Two as family sickness and other responsibilities stole my writing time, but it will be completed in the next few days.)

The ‘O’ Antiphons are liturgical antiphons prayed from December 17th to the 23rd, prayed with the Magnificat at Vespers (or Evening Prayer) and also included in the Alleluia verse at Mass. Each antiphon begins with the invocation ‘O’ and bears a Messianic title: O Wisdom, O Lord (Adonai), O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Rising Sun, O Desire of Nations, O Emmanuel. Originating from the 8th century, the author is unknown, but they are unparalleled in beauty capturing the longing for the coming of our Lord. O Come and tarry not! The Church recognizes our eagerness and impatience for the coming of Christmas. In one week, centuries of the long expectation for the Messiah are summed up in seven short antiphons.

Most people don’t think they know the “O Antiphons”, but if anyone has ever sung all the verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, there are all the Antiphons in their glory.

The ‘O’ Antiphons tie in with my thoughts on the Jesse Tree. If our family is following a Jesse Tree tradition at home, it’s important to us to use the last days of Advent for the ‘O’ Antiphons. While they are not directly part of the lineage of Jesse, they have even more richness because they are the summary of Redemption and the Old Testament. The Messianic titles and symbols have such richness that they should stand alone.

I mentioned that in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium that for the youngest ages there are certain prophecies presented, and otherwise most of the Old Testament is not presented until they are older. The Prophecy of the Names is one given to the youngest child, Isaiah 9:5-6:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful-Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Even the young three-year-old hears these odd-sounding and long titles for Jesus. They aren’t explained, but given to the child to ponder. Who is this child? What kind of child is this with such marvelous names?

Presenting the O Antiphons within the family can be something as simple, even for young children. These are other titles for the Messiah, with a symbol to match. They are part of a mystery that we can keep uncovering bit by bit every year, pondering what these titles might mean.

Later as our children grow older, there can be more delving into the scriptural citations, and also pondering the three-fold nature of these titles. We see how they were written in summarizing the longing of the Old Testament people for the Messiah, but they were fulfilled through Jesus, the Messiah.

  • What was lost by Adam’s folly, the Wisdom of Jesus restores by his becoming man;
  • What grace was prefigured on Sinai in the Law, Jesus bestows as Lord by the gift of his Pentecost Spirit;
  • What died when Jesse’s tree was cut to the root, Jesus, its new shoot, revitalizes by his crucifixion;
  • What sin slammed shut in Paradise, Jesus, Key of David, re-opens by his ascension into glory;
  • What deliverance from death Prophecy dreamt of at its setting, the Jesus of Easter accomplishes as the Rising Sun at his resurrection;
  • What Israel in exile foreshadowed, Jesus, Desire of Nations, completes by drawing all things to himself; and
  • What God’s forsaken people of the Old Dispensation longed for most, Jesus Emmanuel satisfies by his enduring presence as God-with-us (O. Treanor, Seven Bells to Bethlehem, p. 16).

After seeing the two of the application of the Antiphons, there is the pondering question of how does this apply to us and our preparaton for the Second Coming, the Parousia? That third layer preparation for Christ’s Second Coming is often forgotten in our Christmas focus. We are eager to keep Christ in Christmas, but we often lose sight that while we are recalling His historical birth in Bethlehem, Advent and Christmas are reminders of preparation for Parousia.

O Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay!

For further reading, last year my O Antiphons post had more ideas of applying these at home, files to download and a summary of other links for more information. See:

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Dec. 17, 2016 1:27 PM ET USA

    Concerning links to last year's post on the O Antiphons at the end of this article: The typographical errors in these links have been fixed. They will now work.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Dec. 17, 2016 12:50 AM ET USA

    When I try to see last year's article I get this error message: Commentary The address line must possess a valid ID number for an item to display.