The 'O' Antiphons

The 'O' Antiphons

In the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours, Evening prayer always includes Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat. Each day the Magnificat is preceded by a short verse, or antiphon that links the prayer to the feast of the day or the season of the year. In the last seven days of Advent (December 17-23rd), the antiphons before the Magnificat are very special. Each begins with the exclamation “O” and ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As the days progress and Christmas nears, the cry becomes increasingly urgent. The antiphons are all passages from the Old Testament which looked forward to the coming of salvation. Together they give us a rich tapestry of biblical images. These titles and images are: O Sapientia (wisdom), O Adonai, (Lord) O Radix Jesse (root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Key of David), O Oriens (Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (King of peoples), and O Emmanuel (God with us). A curious feature: in Latin an acrostic is formed by taking the first letter of each antiphon and reading it backwards: the Latin ‘Ero Cras’ means ‘Tomorrow I will be there’ and can be understood as Christ’s response to his people’s prayer. Including the Antiphons in our daily prayer as we near Christmas, is a wonderful way of meditating on God’s gift of incarnation. 

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