The “O” Antiphons

The Church has been singing and/or reciting the “O” Antiphons since at least the 7th century during Advent. These are the antiphons (verses to be recited or sung in response) that accompany the Magnificat from Luke 1:46-55. These antiphons use ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Messiah to come – both to sanctify us now and one day to return.

From December 17-23, these are to be recited in the evening before bedtime in the following way…

Antiphon
The Magnificat: Luke 1:46-55
Antiphon

For instance, on December 17th (the first evening of the seven), the reading is this…

ANT #1: 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.  

My soul rejoices in the Lord
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now,
and will be for ever. Amen.

ANT #1: 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.  

This is the pattern that should be followed each evening.  The remaining 6 antiphons are…

ANT. #2: 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.

ANT. #3: O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; rulers stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

ANT. #4: 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.

ANT. #5: O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

ANT. #6: O Ruler of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart, O keystone of the mighty arch of humankind: Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

ANT. #7: O Emmanuel, ruler and lawgiver, desire of the nations, savior of all people: Come and set us free, Lord our God.

The great Advent hymn, O Come O Come Emmanuel, is this pattern put to song. It was originally written in Latin text in the 12th Century. The author of the words and composer to the music is unknown. It is, however believed that the melody was of French origin and added to the text a hundred years later. The Latin was translated into English by John Mason Neale in 1851. The full song has 7 verses that match up with the 7 antiphons.