The “O Antiphons"

Dec 21, 2019

Dear Friends,

            It's one of two Sundays in the year in which we use the liturgical color rose, sometimes mistakenly called pink. In Advent, this Sunday is Gaudete Sunday—Gaudete coming from Latin, meaning rejoice! We rejoice because Christmas is near, the time of waiting is nearly over. Rejoice!

            As is often the case, we have been singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and other modern versions of it at Mass. It may not be known that the verses of this prominent Advent hymn come from what are known as the “O Antiphons.” What are the O Antiphons? Firstly, an antiphon in general is a short chant, often used as a refrain and usually coming from the Psalms. The O Antiphons are used in Vespers—Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church, prayed by all priests and deacons—from December 17 to December December 23. Each of these antiphons begins with “O” and then continues with a name or attribute of Christ found in Scripture. I'll list the O Antiphons with the corresponding day, along with the Latin, which I'll reveal has significance:

December 17: O Wisdom (O Sapientia)

December 18: O Lord (O Adonai)

December 19: O Root of Jesse (O Radix Jesse)

December 20: O Key of David (O Clavis David)

December 21: O Dayspring (O Oriens)

December 22: O King of the Nations (O Rex Gentium)

December 23: O Emmanuel/God is with us (O Emmanuel)

            The antiphons are longer than just these titles and attributes, but we certainly recognize these as we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” These are titles are usually found in the Old Testament prophets foretelling the arrival of the Messiah. These O Antiphons guide us through the waiting for the coming of the Messiah, showing us how God had prepared all of history for the arrival of His Son into the world in the Incarnation.

            It is disputed whether the antiphons were intentionally arranged in their order, but if you take the first letter of Latin titles and begin with Emmanuel and go backwards ending with Sapientia, there is an acrostic in Latin: ERO CRAS. ERO CRAS are two Latin words meaning roughly, “I will be there.” Rejoice! The Lord is near! Come, Lord Jesus!

Have a great week!

In Christ,

Fr. Matt