The 'O' Antiphons

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The 'O' Antiphons  

As early as the 8th century, the seven "Great Antiphons," or "Great O's" were sung in the monasteries during Advent vespers before and after the "Magnificat." Each antiphon (a verse sung responsively between two groups) began with the letter "O" followed by a salutation with one of the biblical names for Christ.

These salutations were O Sapientia (Wisdom), O Adonai (Lord), O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Key of David), O Oriens (Orient), O Rex Gentium (King of the Gentiles), and O Emmanuel (God with us).

They are part of the Divine Office, the official Prayer of the Church. These prayers are sung or said on the seven days before the Vigil of the Nativity, beginning on December 17th.

The O Antiphons are a collection of passages from Biblical texts, largely the wisdom and prophetic books, they are believed to have been composed by a cantor of the 7th or 8th century. The O Antiphons became truly popular during the Middle Ages. They speak of man's desire and longing for God, a longing which has existed throughout the history of God's people from the beginning of time through Abraham, Moses and David, fulfilled on the night when Emmanuel (God with us) JESUS was born.

The structure of the Antiphons make them perfect for a family tradition, and if you wish, you can make them into ornaments to hang from your Christmas tree. Some families draw the symbols of the Antiphons on circles of cardboard, felt, fabric or paper and hang them from ribbons on a banner or poster. The circles are turned to the wall and after the Antiphon is sung or said, the circle is flipped to show the images. On Christmas Eve, all the images are visible.  

(click on thumbnails to see large image)

1wisdom.jpg (38086 bytes)

December 17: O Sapientia (Wisdom)

O Wisdom. You came forth from the mouth of the Most High and reaching from beginning to end, You ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come and teach us the way of prudence!


2lord.jpg (45897 bytes)

December 18: O Adonai (Lord)

O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, You appeared to Moses in the burning bush and on Mount Sinai gave him Your Law. Come and with outstretched arm redeem us!  


3root.jpg (44806 bytes)

December 19: O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)

O Root of Jesse, You stand for an ensign of mankind; before You kings shall keep silence, and to You all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us and do not delay!  


4key.jpg (39644 bytes)

December 20: O Clavis David (Key of David)

O Key of David, and Sceptre of the House of Israel, You open and no man closes; You close and no man opens. Come and deliver him from the chains of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death!  


5dawn.jpg (47067 bytes)

December 21: O Oriens (Orient)

O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice; come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!


6king.jpg (53714 bytes)

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

O King of Nations and Desired of All, You are the cornerstone that binds two into one. Come, and save poor man whom You fashioned out of clay!  


7god.jpg (46416 bytes)

December 23: O Emmanuel (God with us)

O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of nations and their Saviour; come and save us , O Lord our God!  




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