Catholic Culture Solidarity
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Catholic Activity: O Antiphons - December 17 - 24



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December 17 marks the beginning of the "O" Antiphons an ancient part of our liturgy, dating back to the fourth century, one for each day until Christmas Eve. These antiphons address Christ with seven magnificent Messianic titles, based on the Old Testament prophecies and types of Christ. The Church recalls the variety of the ills of man before the coming of the Redeemer.

For more information on the O Antiphons, see other articles by Jennifer Gregory Miller:


Before the coming of God in the flesh, we were ignorant, subject to eternal punishment, slaves of the Devil, shackled with our sinful habits, lost in darkness, exiled from our true country. Hence the ancient antiphons announce Jesus in turn as our Teacher, our Redeemer, our Liberator, our Guide, our Enlightener and our Saviour. —The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, trans. Ryan and Ripperger, 1941

The antiphons beg God with mounting impatience to come and save His people. The order of the antiphons climb climatically through our history of Redemption.

In the first, O Sapientia, we take a backward flight into the recesses of eternity to address Wisdom, the Word of God. In the second, O Adonai, we have leaped from eternity to the time of Moses and the Law of Moses (about 1400 B.C.). In the third, O Radix Jesse, we have come to the time when God was preparing the line of David (about 1100 B.C.). In the fourth, O Clavis David, we have come to the year 1000. In the fifth, O Oriens we see that the line of David is elevated so that the peoples may look on a rising star in the east, and hence in the sixth, O Rex Gentium, we know that He is king of all the world of man. This brings us to the evening before the vigil, and before coming to the town limits of Bethlehem, we salute Him with the last Great O, O Emmanuel, God-with-usHe Cometh by Fr. McGarry).

As Elsa Chaney in Twelve Days of Christmas states, "They seem to sum up all our Advent longing as they paint in vivid terms the wretched condition of mankind and his need of a Savior."

The "O" Antiphons are the verses for the ancient hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The first letter of the Messianic titles: Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia—spell out Latin words ERO CRAS, meaning, "Tomorrow, I will come."

The antiphons are part of the evening prayer of the Divine Office, the antiphon before and after the Magnificat. They are also the alleluia verse before the Gospel at Mass.

To reinforce this devotion, your family could prepare an "O" Antiphon House, a little cardboard house with nine hinged windows (two extra for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), each hiding the appropriate symbol for the "O" Antiphon of the day. Each window can be opened at the end of family evening prayers, as the corresponding verse to "O Come, Emmanuel" is sung.

Another way to celebrate the "O" Antiphons is reviving the old custom of monasteries of different monks furnishing extra treats on these days to the members of the community. As Florence Berger describes:

The gardener gave the community some of his finest dried or preserved fruits on Dec 19 when he called on Christ: 'O Root of Jesse, come to deliver us and tarry not.' The cellarer unlocked the best wine for his treat as he called: 'O Key of David, come, and come quickly.' Finally, on December 23, the abbot gave his extra gift to the brothers. Expense accounts which are still extant show how generous and extensive a list of foods were used on the abbot's 'O day.'" —Cooking for Christ, National Catholic Rural Life Conference

Depending on the size of your family, each day can be "assigned" to a family member, usually youngest to oldest, so that they can provide a special treat for that O Antiphon day. The surprise usually revolves around dinner, but it does not need to be too fancy or a food treat. It's preferable to have a homemade treat, but the younger the child, the less they can do. For example, the youngest could serve candy canes or graham crackers, the next child could provide popcorn or soda, the next child could have a special holycard for everyone, another child could cracked nuts to serve after dinner. The father's and mother's treats would be a little more "sophisticated"— like Mom could serve a favorite dinner or dish, like mashed potatoes, Dad could take everyone out for ice cream. These are just suggestions. The best part is leaving it up to the member to keep it a secret until dinner time, except possibly with some help from Mom and Dad.

O Sapientia or O Wisdom (December 17)
O Wisdom (Sirach 24:3),
You came forth from the mouth of the Most High (Sirach 24:3),
and reaching from beginning to end You ordered all things mightily and sweetly (Wisdom 8:1).
* Come, and teach us the way of prudence (Isaiah 40:14).

O Adonai or O Lord and Ruler (December 18)
O Adonai (Exod 3:14)
and Ruler of the house of Israel (Matt 2:6; Micah 5:1; 2 Sam 5:2),
You appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush (Exod 3:2)
and on Mount Sinai gave him Your Law (Exod 20).
* Come, and with an outstretched arm redeem us (Jeremiah 32:21).

O Radix Jesse or O Root of Jesse (December 19)
O Root of Jesse, (Isaiah 11:1)
You stand for the ensign of mankind (Isaiah 11:10);
before You kings shall keep silence and to You all nations shall have recourse (Isaiah 52:15).
* Come, save us, and do not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).

O Clavis David or O Key of David (December 20)
O Key of David, (Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7)
and Scepter of the house of Israel (Numbers 24:17):
You open and no man closes; you close and no man opens (Isaiah 22:22).
* Come, and deliver him from the chains of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death (Ps 107:10).

O Oriens or O Rising Dawn or Morning Star (December 21)
O Rising Dawn, (Jer 23:5; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12),
Radiance of the Light eternal (Habakkuk 3:4; Wisdom 7:26; Hebrews 1:3)
and Sun of Justice (Malachi 3:20):
* Come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death (Ps 107:10; Lk 1:78).

O Rex Gentium or O King of the Nations (December 22)
O King of the Gentiles (Jeremiah 10:7; Haggai 2:7),
and the Desired of all,
You are the Cornerstone that binds two into one (Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42; Ephesians 2:20).
* Come, and save man whom You fashioned out of clay (Genesis 2:7).

O Emmanuel (December 23)
O Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14; 8:8; Luke 1:31-33),
our King and Lawgiver (Genesis 49:10; cf. Ezekiel 21:32),
the Expected of the nations and their Savior (Isa 33:22):
* Come, and save us, O Lord our God.

Jennifer Gregory Miller Jennifer G. Miller

Activity Source: Original Text (JGM) by Jennifer Gregory Miller, © Copyright 2003-2023 by Jennifer Gregory Miller