The O Antiphons
The Advent focus on the coming of Christ invites us to prepare for and to welcome Christ not only on the Feast of Christmas but within our deepest selves, in the people and events of this time and space, and at the end of time. Nevertheless, the fourth and final week of Advent often takes us by surprise. This element of surprise is exactly what the coming of the Messiah is all about for we do not know the day or the hour of His arrival.
For centuries in anticipation of celebrating Christ’s coming in the Incarnation, His presence with us in the here and now, and His final coming in glory, the Church has prayerfully cried out each day in the final week before Christmas Day, “O Come!” Referred to as “The O Antiphons” they have been part of The Liturgy of the Hours as the antiphons of the Magnificat. Using the many titles of Emmanuel, the O Antiphons tell us something about the Messiah. They are based on the Book of Isaiah and other prophetic texts and are most familiar as the verses of the hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” They are prayed or sung during evening prayer, December 17 through December 23.
There are also symbols for each of the titles in the O Antiphons. Throughout time they have been given a variety of artistic expressions. The antiphons and symbols in every age and language serve to remind us of the promise of Christ’s presence and call us to live in hope.
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!