A Whole Week of “O”
ne of my favorite features of Advent occurs from the 17th to the 23rd of December. Tucked away in the liturgy for those days are seven gems known as the O Antiphons. The full versions of these antiphons are prayed at Vespers, or Evening Prayer, in the Liturgy of the Hours. (Shorter versions are used as the Alleluia verse at Mass.)
If you know the carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” you might recognize that each verse of the carol is a different O Antiphon. Some scholars think that these little Advent songs trace their origins at least to the eighth century. There is no doubt that they have been around for a long time.
For many years, I considered these amazing aspirations only in the context of the longing Israel had for a Messiah. But in recent years, I have noticed that each antiphon speaks loudly to our contemporary world.
Just look at the headlines. Barbaric attacks, wars and rumors of wars, lack of civility in public discourse, endangered children, violence in homes and on the street, the ignoring and even abuse of the natural world—the list goes on and on. All these lead us to cry out, “Please, come!”
I invite you to join me in these seven days of pre-Christmas pleading for the Savior’s arrival. I offer you a brief paraphrase of each O Antiphon. (You can find the full traditional English text of antiphons by clicking HERE.)
December 17: O Wisdom! You are God’s Son and Word. You see that the order of things in this world is disrupted, damaged and even dangerous. Come, and teach us how to be prudent in our decisions and in our treatment of one another and the world around us.
December 18: O Lord! You let us know your name and gave us a law to follow. That law is so often ignored and violated. We need to get to know you again. Come, stretch out your arm and lift us up.
December 19: O Root of Jesse! You are a sign for us all. Now we need for world leaders to keep some silence and turn toward the way of truth. We know that we can trust in you. Come, please hurry, we need your salvation.
December 20: O Key of David! You open doors for the poor and disenfranchised and they stay open. You close doors on the greedy, violent, and vengeful and they stay closed. Come, and deliver those who sit in darkness—refugees, prisoners, immigrants, the lonely, the frightened, and take away the shadows that hover over them.
December 21: O Rising Dawn! You are a shining light for all society. You are the Sun of Justice. Come, and shine your light on the poor and the wounded and show us all how to work for a new day of justice and peace.
December 22: O King of the Nations! You are the cornerstone of society. You show that what binds us together is the care and concern we show to others. Come, and show us how to make this world a better place.
December 23: O Emmanuel! You are the hope of the nations. We need you more than ever. Come again, be with us and show us the way.
Spending some time with these antiphons certainly helps me put the final week of preparations in perspective and opens the way for what I hope to be a very blessed Christmas.