“O” Antiphons Lead Us into Jesus’ Coming(s) Among Us

We are fortunate this year to have a full week between the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas. We have a ready-made opportunity to focus on the coming of the Word into the form of an innocent baby, as well as anticipate with longing and hope, Christ’s Second Coming at the end of days.

In 2016, the Fourth Week of Advent closely coincides with the “O” Antiphon Days. The observance of these days, from December 17-23, is a beautiful and rich way to immerse ourselves in what is to come so very soon and has been a part of our Church’s practice since the early Eighth century. Primarily used in the evening prayers of the Liturgy of Hours, just before the Magnificat, each antiphon calls upon a name of Jesus.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) describes them thus: “They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.” This is precisely what we’ve been doing for the first three weeks of Advent – hearing the Old Testament foretelling the coming of Jesus as our Messiah. We have also been experiencing our continued desire for his arrival at Christmas, at the end of time and in our daily life – particularly when we gather to celebrate the Most Holy Eucharist.

Most of us have prayed them countless times, even if we’ve never been aware of doing so. The verses of the popular Christmas hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel appeal to Jesus, each with a different name, to come and be with us, and it proclaims in the refrain His coming. In addition, those who attend the weekday Masses on these days will hear the “O” Antiphon of the day as the Gospel Acclamation.

I look forward to these “O” Antiphon Days each year. I don’t make a big deal of it because it is the very simplicity of the prayers that attracts me and draws me closer in intimate relationship with Jesus. Although every new year I promise myself a greater dedication to consistent Prayer of the Hours, and every year I fail, in early spring, I am always filled with gladness to be back to it in mid-December with the “O” Antiphons.

You don’t need to pray the Hours to fully appreciate and enter into the spirit of these special prayers, either. It could be something as simple as saying them together as you light the Advent candles each night, now all four and in hopeful anticipation of lighting the white Christ candle in just a few days. It might be copying the antiphon for the day, while you offer your day to God each morning and tucking it into your pocket to ponder as you go about your last minute holiday errands and preparations. Maybe you feel moved to attend a weekday Mass or two this week, or all of them if you can. If you are blessed with a love of song, perhaps you’ll listen to and sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel as you never have before. I journal in the morning as part of my daily devotion, and I like to write about how each of Christ’s names moves and touches me. Every year I discover something new.

“O” Antiphons

December 17 O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge

December 18 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’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!

December 20 O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!

December 21 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 22 O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!

December 23 O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God!

Whether you already make the “O” Antiphons a part of your Advent preparation or you are hearing of them for the first time, my prayer for you is that this last week of Advent affords you time to be with the Lord in a deeper way, and that knowing and praying with His names will bring you joy and an awakening awareness of his place in your life. May your Christmas feast find you ready for Him, with hearts full of hope and radiating the joy of His love for you. God bless you.

Lisa Amos

Pastoral Associate



Leave a Reply