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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Harvey

The O Antiphons in Preparation for Christmas: What Every Catholic Should Know

Updated: Dec 19, 2023


o antiphons

On December 17th the Church begins the “O Antiphons.” In terms of Advent preparation, it means that Christmas is near. The O Antiphons occur over seven days, December 17th-December 23rd, and like Christmas they are the same fixed dates every year. Integrating the O Antiphons into your household will not only serve to strengthen your Advent preparations but it can also introduce you to a hope of the Church since the Second Vatican Council. First, let us consider the O Antiphons and your preparation for Christmas.


Antiphons are short sentences recited before, during, or throughout a psalm or canticle during the Sacred Liturgy. The “O Antiphons” refer to ancient antiphons prayed during Evening Prayer (Vespers) from the Liturgy of the Hours and each antiphon begins with “O.” To assist in our anticipation for Christ’s coming, and to imitate the anticipation of the Israelites for the Messiah, each one says something about Jesus. This anticipation today is not only to assist us in preparing to celebrate the original Christmas event on December 25th (and throughout the days of Christmas to follow), but to help us prepare for with anticipation the second coming of the Messiah. The titles for Jesus in these antiphons are, 


December 17: O Wisdom

  • “O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge!” 


December 18: O LORD/Leader (Adonai)

  • “O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: come to rescue us with your mighty power!“ 


December 19: O Root of Jesse 

  • “O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!” 


December 20: O Key of David

  • “O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!” 


December 21: O Radiant Day or O Dayspring (Morning Star)

  • “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.” 


December 22nd: O King of Nations

  • “O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!” 


December 23rd: O God with Us (Emmanuel)

  • “O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God!” 


Do you recognize in these the verses of the O Come, Emanuel song? These antiphons are its source material. Each of these antiphons illuminate a portion of the identity and mission of Jesus; they also flow from events testified to in the Old Testament and speak of God’s chosen people’s anticipation for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Jesus is the Divine Wisdom through whom all of creation is made and receives its intelligibility. Jesus is the great Adonai (LORD); “Adonai” refers to His name that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. As the “Root of Jesse,” Jesus is the promised king and sign of God’s love for His people. Relating to this imagery of kingship and royalty, as the “Key of David” Jesus has the divine authority to release captives from sin. Related to this deliverance is the Divine Light whose grace and revelation dispels darkness. The Old Testament, from Abraham to the prophets, promised covenantal blessing and salvation would one day be open to all nations; this was fulfilled in Jesus Christ and His Catholic (universal) Church. The God who spoke and acted in the past remains active today; Jesus is God with us and for us (Emmanuel), the God who dwells among us, the One who is with us until the end of time.

 

All of this may sound great, but what exactly are Evening Prayer and Liturgy of the Hours where these antiphons are found? Liturgy of the Hours is also referred to as the “Divine Office” or “Breviary.” The Liturgy of the Hours offers us the opportunity to encounter Christ in the Sacred Liturgy through set prayers, readings, and songs set for specific parts of the day such as morning, daytime, evening, and night. The Second Vatican Council taught that the Liturgy of the Hours, along with the Mass, is a participation in the Son’s song or offering to the Father (Sacrosanctum Concilium 83). The Liturgy of the Hours, “because it is the public prayer of the Church, is a source of piety, and nourishment for personal prayer” (SC 90). These liturgies set to the parts of the day are a means of consecrating time to God (CCC 1174). “The Liturgy of the Hours, which is like an extension of the Eucharistic celebration, does not exclude but rather in a complementary way calls forth the various devotions of the People of God, especially adoration and worship of the Blessed Sacrament” (CCC 1178). When we pray Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, whether at our parish church or our home, these blessings are available to us and can enrich our faith, our participation at Mass, our prayer life, and our days preceding Holy Christmas.

 

If the Liturgy of the Hours is a new concept to you, will you consider praying Evening Prayer during the O Antiphons? If you do, you will not only receive the blessings that come from participation in the Sacred Liturgy, but you will also be helping to implement one of the hopes of the Second Vatican Council. The clergy and religious brothers and sisters are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily. Most priests pray these liturgies on their own. The Second Vatican Council sought to renew the role of the Liturgy of the Hours in the life of all Christ’s flock. “Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially [Evening Prayer] Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually” (SC 100). The Church is asking for the Liturgy of the Hours to be prayed somewhat regularly, as indicated by her stating a minimum, as a parish and for the laity to rediscover the beauty and blessings of these liturgies. Whether with your parish or on your own or with a small group, praying Evening Prayer during the O Antiphons will allow the council’s vision to come just a bit closer to fulfillment.


Where should you begin if you wanted to pray Evening Prayer during the O Antiphons or to simply rediscover the gift of the Liturgy of the Hours? Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer will usually take 15 minutes (pray Evening Prayer if you want to pray with the O Antiphons). Daytime Prayer and Night Prayer are shorter (there is also the Office of Readings!). There are several apps to assist you. For example: The IBreviary App, the Laudate App, and the Hallow App has the Liturgy of the Hours but Hallow appears to only offer Night Prayer and not Evening Prayer at this time. The Word on Fire apostolate also offers a printed book for each month which is great for individuals, families, small groups, or parishes wanting to integrate these liturgies into their prayer diet. Consider praying Evening Prayer just for the O Antiphons to begin with. You will be praying alongside your pope, bishop, and pastor. Then consider if there is a way you can make the Liturgy of the Hours a part of your prayer routines in the future! 

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