Preparing for Christmas with the Church: The “O ANTIPHONS” *
In the final week of Advent the Church’s attention is fixed on the messianic promises proclaimed by the ancient prophets of Israel in the “O Antiphons.” They add a mood of eager expectation to the liturgy that builds up each day and climaxes at Christmas. The antiphons are, in fact, a collage of Old Testament persons who foreshadowed Christ. Their predominant theme is messianic, stressing the hope of the Savior’s coming. Jesus is invoked by various titles. The sequence progresses historically, from the beginning, before creation, to the very gates of Bethlehem.
The “O Antiphons” have been described as “a unique work of art and a special ornament of the pre-Christmas liturgy, filled with the Spirit of the Word of God”. They “create a poetry that fills the liturgy with its splendor”.
Each “O Antiphon” begins with an invocation of the expected Messiah, followed by praise of him under one of his particular titles. Each ends with a petition for God’s people, relevant to the title by which he is addressed, and the cry for him to “Come”.
The seven titles attributed to Jesus in the antiphons are Wisdom (Sapientia in Latin), Ruler of the House of Israel (Adonai), Root of Jesse (Radix), Key of David (Clavis), Rising Dawn (Oriens), King of the Gentiles (Rex) and Emmanuel. In Latin the initials of the titles make an acrostic which, when read backwards. means: “Tomorrow I will be there” (“Ero cras”). To the medieval mind this was clearly a reference to the approaching Christmas vigil.
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