The O Antiphons contain images from the Old Testament that give us insight into the new life that we welcome at Christmas, Our Lord Jesus Christ. They are sung with solemnity at evening prayer in the pre-octave of Christmas from the 17-23 December.
23rd December 2022
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge the one whom the people await and their saviour. O come and save us Lord our God.
God with us – Emmanuel – addresses the one who is nearly here the one we truly await. God with us. Not a distant god but a kindly human heart of a child one like us in all things but sin a child full of human weakness, dependent on mother and father for everything. He takes our human nature because he desires us to have his divine nature.
The antiphon reminds us of characters we have already mentioned in our prayer: a king like David, a judge like Samuel (the wisdom of God) the lawgiver like Moses and he is the saviour who is to come. If he has given a law, then we should obey it – his law is the law of love of God and neighbour. If he is to become our King, then we give submission of our will, if he is to be a wise judge, we need to seek wisdom in all of our actions, and if he is our saviour, we long for his fulfilment in us.
When we ask for the Lord our God to come, it sums us the journey of our seven days. We have sought the one who is to come and now we are on the threshold of salvation when he who is God with us -Emmanuel – will be born of the Virgin Mary and the eternal God enters into human history.
As we now celebrate the Solemnity of the Incarnation, let us thank God for all of the blessings he bestows upon us, but above all for the salvation won for us through his life death and resurrection.
For there is a child born for us, a son given for us and dominion is laid upon his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.
22nd December 2022
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O king whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay.
Jeremiah speaks of the king of all the nations asking the question “who would not revere you o king of the nations.” The Messiah is seen as the cornerstone in Isaiah, “behold I will lay a stone as the foundation of Zion, a tested stone, a cornerstone precious and firmly set, if one believes, he will not be shaken.” (Is 28:16) and the psalmist speaks of the rejected stone which became the cornerstone (Ps 117). The unity of the King as the desired of all, and the firm foundation upon which is built the whole of humanity – a uniting between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female for we all become one in Christ.
The petition takes us back to our earthly beginnings, where God fashions us from the mud of the earth, making something beautiful in his own image and likeness, which we deform through our pride and selfish actions. In the coming of the King of all the nations, the one desired by all, the cornerstone of all creation, we can receive back again that dignity lost through the foolish actions of sin, and live through salvation in the light of life.
21st December 2022
O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O rising sun, you are the splendour of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
The shortest day of the year has the antiphon relating to light. From today, light will slowly and, at first, imperceptibly grow day by day. In the same way, the light who is Christ is growing in our consciousness.
Christ as the light of the world, is the true Sun who enlightens all who bask in his rays and acknowledge him as the Lord. He is likened in the antiphon to three aspects of the sun, the rising sun, the splendour of eternal light, the sun of justice. The expression of rising sun, or dayspring, is proclaimed in the Benedictus of Zachariah in Luke’s gospel when he gains the power of speech after being struck dumb. He says that God will “bring the Rising Sun to visit us” Christ is that rising sun that disperses spiritual darkness and brings light and life.
The “splendour of eternal light” points to the origin of all things – God who dwells in eternal light. In the creed each week we proclaim that Jesus is the “light from light” so whilst the first image points to the relation of Jesus to all people, this points backwards to his divine origin as the only begotten son. Finally he is the Sun of Justice from the prophecy of Malachi “but for you who fear my name the sun of justice shall rise with healing in his wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” The Lord when he comes will give rays of holiness and grace that links to the petition, that we be enlightened to be freed from darkness and all that holds us back, so that we may have life and light and love and experience the righteousness of the Lord.
20th December 2022
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O key of David and sceptre of Israel, what you open no one can close again; what you close no one can open. O come to lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
O Key of David, the one who opens and closes. The handing over of keys denotes the conferral of supreme authority, the one who holds the keys is the one who has the power to bind and loose, to open and close. This is a prophetic image from Isaiah 22 when the Royal steward Shebna, in the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah, was deposed because of his pride and the keys removed from him and given to a more faithful steward.
Jesus is the true heir of the House of David and so the keys belong to him by right and the sceptre of the kingdom reveals his power. He is the chief steward of the blessings of salvation and after his resurrection he openly declared that “all authority in heaven and on earth is given to me” and so he entrusted this power of binding and loosing to his church and particularly to Peter.
The petition of this antiphon is clear, that the prophecy of Isaiah, declared at the beginning of his ministry to give good news and loose those in any form of bondage will become a reality as captive humanity is freed from its own bondage to sin to live in the light of the Lord.
19th December 2022
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O stock of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations; kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim. O come to deliver us and do not delay.
Jesse was King David’s father, and the antiphon for today comes from the prophecy of Isaiah. The prophet sees the destruction of the house of David and the kingdom of Judah would be destroyed but there would remain a holy root, a stump, from which a shoot would grow that would be holy and a sign of God’s faithfulness.
Because of God’s fidelity shown to the peoples, the peoples will be silent at this act of goodness and will gather around the new shoot, acknowledging it as a new ruler – they will marvel at this and be dumbstruck and filled with awe.
When the angel Gabriel announced the coming of the Son of God to Mary, he said:
“The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the house of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.”
The Lord coming in the flesh will occupy the royal throne of David and all will be astounded at his reign, the reign which we as Christians are commissioned to proclaim in the world. The petition is to come and bring to fulfilment the Reign of the one who now sits on the Throne so all will see the coming of God in power.
18th December 2022
O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai. O come and save us with your mighty power.
Adonai means “God of the Covenant.” The defining moment of the people of Israel was their deliverance from bondage in Egypt which is commemorated at Passover every year. This process of deliverance began when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Moses was called and chosen by God to lead his people to freedom, and in that freedom to offer them a bond of love that would be unbroken in the Covenant on Sinai. The people, choosing to accept the Law and Covenant, become God’s chosen ones.
The action of Moses leading the people through the waters of the Red Sea and then giving the Law on Sinai are images of the ministry and life of Jesus. What was given in symbolic form is enfleshed in the Son who is to come to “save us with his mighty power.”
As Moses presented the Law on Sinai, so Jesus presents the new law on the Mount of the Beatitudes, speaking with love and tenderness to the poor, the gentle, the bereaved, the ones who seek justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted.
We who bear his name need to ask him to come and save us with the mighty power of forming us in his own image, of cooperating with his gift of grace, by loving him as he loves us.
17th December 2022
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the most high. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner. O come to teach us the way of truth.
The first antiphon praises divine wisdom. In the Old Testament there is a whole genre of literature called “wisdom literature” which praises the very mind of God in his creation and in his works. At times, wisdom is actually personified and, indeed, was “with God when he created the world” (Wisdom 9).
Wisdom is also seen as proceeding from God like breath (the allusion in the antiphon coming from the mouth of the most high) or the effusion of his glory.
But wisdom is also a human attribute seen as the foundation of all virtue. The awe of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and in the action of living out wisdom, we act gently with power knowing that all power is given to us by god as a gift. This is embodied by the Lord Jesus who acted in that strong and gentle way in his ministry. His coming teaches us to act with prudence in truth.
The wisdom of God forms Christians in the life of strength with gentleness and we reflect that effused glory of God when we do this. By receiving divine wisdom, we embrace the strength and power of the Christian life that calls us to a gentle and ordered living proclaiming in the one who is to come, he who will teach us prudence in truth.
16th December 2022
The O Antiphons contain images from the Old Testament that give us insight into the new life that we welcome at Christmas, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
They are sung with solemnity at evening prayer in the pre-octave of Christmas from the 17-23 December.
Read backwards each letter spells the Latin phrase ‘ero cras’ meaning tomorrow I will be here. Hence the expectation of the one who sings the antiphons looking forward to the birth of the Messiah.
We are uploading a short reflection for each O Antiphon, starting with O Sapientia on 17 December.