The “O” Antiphons
The “O” Antiphons are part of the ancient and venerable tradition of the Roman Church going back to at least the eight century, if not sooner. They are associated with Pope St. Gregory the Great. An antiphon is a short sentence that comes before or after a psalm or song in the liturgy.
The “O” Antiphons are part of the final days of Advent leading up to Christmas. They begin on December 17 and go through December 23 and come before and after the Magnificat during the Liturgy of the Hours Evening Prayer. They are also the alleluia verse before the Gospel at Mass.
December 17 – O Sapientia
English: 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.
Latin: O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
December 18 – O Adonai
English: O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
Latin: O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
December 19 – O Radix Jesse
English: O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.
Latin: O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
December 20 – O Clavis David
English: O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Latin: O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
December 21 – O Oriens
English: O Morning Star, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Latin: O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
December 22 – O Rex Gentium
English: O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.
Latin: O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
December 23 – O Emmanuel
English: O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.
Latin: O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
What Do the “O” Antiphons Do?
The “O” Antiphons begin with different Old Testament references to the hope for the Messiah. Then, the second line is a plea for the Messiah to come. Of course, the Lord has already come at the first Christmas. Yet, during every Advent we have the opportunity to grow in our longing for the Lord who has come, who is coming, and who will come again.
In each of the antiphons, there is a traditional liturgical pattern of prayer. First, we address the Almighty with a noble title, then we give praise related to that title, and, finally, we address to God a related petition.
In Latin, the first letter of the titles of the antiphons form an acrostic, when appearing from last to first are: ERO CRAS, which means “Tomorrow, I will come.” This is likely nothing more than a coincidence. It was not likely arranged in this way, and there were variations in wording from church to church. However, the main point of the “O” Antiphons remains. These antiphons are a way to sanctify Advent and increase our longing for the Lord as we approach Christmas Eve.