An antiphon is a short verse from a psalm or other usually biblical source that is chanted (or at least recited) before and/or after a psalm. The O Antiphons are the antiphons chanted on each of the seven days before Christmas Eve, Dec. 17-23.
On each day, a different O Antiphon is sung during Evening Prayer, which is the portion of the Liturgy of the Hours that is prayed at sunset. They are called “O” antiphons because each one starts with the exclamation “O”, followed by a title of the Savior. They are meant to heighten our awareness of the coming of the Lord as we approach those precious few days before Christmas.
The seven O Antiphons are: O Sapientia (Oh Wisdom), O Adonai (Oh Lord), O Radix Jesse (Oh Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Oh Key of David), O Oriens (Oh Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (Oh King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” Each one is named after the title of the Savior that begins the antiphon. Here are the antiphons for each day, in full, followed by the passages from Isaiah that inspire them:
Dec. 17 - O Sapientia: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.” (cf. Isa 11:2-3; 28:29)
Dec. 18 - O Adonai: “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.” (cf. Isa 11:4-5; 33:22)
Dec. 19 - O Radix Jesse: “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.” (cf. Isa 11:1, 10)
Dec. 20 - O Clavis David: “O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” (cf. Isa 9:6; 22:22)
Dec. 21 - O Oriens: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” (cf. Isa 9:2)
Dec. 22 - O Rex Gentium: “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” (cf. Isa 2:4; 9:7)
Dec. 23 - O Emmanuel: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.” (cf. Isa 7:14)
Besides praying these during the Liturgy of the Hours, families can also make up their own prayer services using the O Antiphons. For example, everyone could recite the Antiphon for the day together, then the father could read the appropriate passage from Isaiah, and then end with everyone singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” During Advent, it is always good to set aside some time to pray as a family.
For more on the O Antiphons, see the following articles:
- Fr. William Saunders: What Are the O Antiphons
- Fisheaters: O Antiphons
- Jeanne Kun: The Antiphons of Advent
- Felix Just, SJ, PhD: "O Antiphons" for the Week Before Christmas
- Catholic Culture: O Antiphons Overview
- New Advent: O Antiphons
- Fr. Z: The O Antiphons, and O!
- O Antiphons and Tolkien's Middle Earth
Between now and Christmas, I will be posting a YouTube video for each day's antiphon, so that you can hear a bit of how they are chanted. They are really quite beautiful!
Have a Blessed Advent!