Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas

December 17th, 2008

Personally I had never heard of the O Antiphon’s until recently, and I am guessing that many of you have never heard of them either. So, since today is the day when the Advent Antiphons begin being read during Vespers (evening prayer) I thought it would be a good time for us to learn about them together.

The word antiphon means response (the literal Greek is “opposite” “voice”). Antiphons are a form of call and response usually song or chanted during a religious service (such as Vespers or Mass). The O Antiphons are a specific set of liturgical prayers said or sung during the last few days of Advent. There are 7 parts to the O Antiphons and traditionally one part is said each of the last 7 days before Christmas Eve. Each antiphon focuses on a particular name of Jesus taken from the prophecies of the Old Testament, particularly the prophecies of Isaiah. Here are each of the seven in order:

December 17th: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
December 18th: O Adonai (O Adonai)
December 19th: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
December 20th: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
December 21st: O Oriens (O Morning Star)
December 22nd: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
December 23rd: O Emmanuel (O Emmanuel)

The first letters of each of the titles taken backwards spell out the Latin “Ero Cras” which means “Tomorrow, I come.” You may have recognized as you read these that the song “O come, O come, Emmanuel” was written based on these antiphons.

The history of the O Antiphons is not entirely clear, but we do have references to them as far back as the 6th century and we know that by the 8th century they were commonly used in Rome and many other churches and monasteries.

I think this tradition of the O Antiphons is a truly beautiful way of engaging in Advent and calling forth the coming of Christ Jesus. So, over the next seven days I will post each of the seven antiphons along with scripture verses to go with them. I hope you find them as meaningful as I do.

Here’s the first one…

December 17: O Sapientia

“O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.”

Click here to hear this antiphon in Latin.

“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:2-3)

“…he is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom.” (Isaiah 28:29)

May Jesus, wisdom himself, the origin and keeper of all insight and understanding, come to each of us this day.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

photograph by Beth Stedman

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