O Antiphons: A Powerful Way to Pray in the Final Days of the Advent Season

In the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve (December 17-23), we sing the ancient and poetic “O Antiphons.”

 Min read
December 13, 2023

Whether you’ve remained steadfast in your observances for Advent or feel like you haven’t embraced the spirit of this liturgical season, you still have a few days left before Christmas to finish strong. 

And, the Church in her wisdom, has set aside these final days for a unique meditation on the coming of Christ called the O Antiphons.

In the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve (December 17-23), we sing the ancient and poetic “O Antiphons.” 

These antiphons are short prayers said or chanted during the Magnificat prayer of Vespers, as well as the Alleluia verse at daily mass. (You may also recognize them from the start of each verse in the hymn “O Come Come Emmanuel”).

The O Antiphons highlight a different title of the Messiah. Drawing on scriptural imagery of the Old Testament, these antiphons emphasize humanity’s longing for the Messiah and to proclaim the coming of Christ as the fulfillment of this longing.  

The O Antiphons are a symbol of hope to a weary people.

They are rooted in the Book of Isaiah and appeared in their current form between the 6th-8th Centuries. They have also been arranged in a specific and meaningful way. 

Beginning with the last title and taking the first letter of each one - Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia - the Latin words “ERO CRAS” are formed which means “Tomorrow, I will come.”

After the waiting of Advent, He who we called upon by each of His titles appears to answer us with a final promise– “Tomorrow, I will come.”

Exploring the Titles:

O Sapientia (O Wisdom): December 17th

O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge

O Adonai (O Lord): December 18th

O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!

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

O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!

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

O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!

O Oriens (O Rising Sun): December 21st

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

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

O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!

O Emmanuel (O God with Us): December 23rd

O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!

Praying with the O Antiphons:

Read and Meditate

Begin each morning with reading the O Antiphon of the day along with the accompanying scripture verses from the Book of Isaiah. Take some time to meditate on the words throughout the day. 

O Sapientia (O Wisdom) Isaiah 11:2–3; 28:29

O Adonai (O Lord) Isaiah 11:4–5; 33:22

O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse) Isaiah 1:1; 11:10

O Clavis David (O Key of David) Isaiah 9:6; 22:22

O Oriens (O Rising Sun) Isaiah 9:1

O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations) Isaiah 9:5; 2:4

O Emmanuel (God with us) Isaiah 7:14

Sing O Come O Come Emmanuel

Sing the appropriate verse of the day of O Come O Come Emmanuel  as you light the candles on your Advent wreath before dinner time. 

Pray Vespers

Vespers is the evening prayer of the Divine Office (also called the Liturgy of the Hours). And since the O Antiphons are prayed or chanted during Vespers, the O Days are perfect for taking up this treasured prayer. Many parishes also offer Vesper services during this week for you to attend.

Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree is a traditional Advent activity and one that is particularly good to do with young children. It illustrates the Story of Salvation and shows how God prepared for Jesus to be born through many generations. Each day of Advent, you read Scripture about someone on Jesus’s family tree and hang an ornament symbolizing the story.

If you’ve already been doing a Jesse Tree during Advent, you’ll see the O Antiphons pop up during this time. If not, you can print or make ornaments for each of the O titles of Christ to display in your home. 

Prayer Journal Prompts

Use the day’s antiphon as a writing prompt in your prayer journal. Write down your thoughts on the antiphon and the accompanying scripture verses or use them to write your own poem or prayers. 

As we approach the culmination of Advent, the O Antiphons provide a profound opportunity for reflection and prayer. By incorporating the O Antiphons into our Advent practices, we not only connect with centuries of Christian tradition but also reorient our hearts toward God.

These ancient prayers invite us to truly embrace the heart of the Advent season and prepare us to at last receive Christ at Christmas. 

May these days of prayer and reflection lead you to a joyous celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Pietra Fitness