During the last 9 days before Christmas, the Christmas Novena, the Church invites us to meditate on the Incarnation of the Son of God and his coming to us as a child born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Church has special prayers during these days called the O Antiphons, which are prayed each night along with the Magnificat during Evening Prayer for the Liturgy of the Hours.
The antiphon for each day recalls a specific epithet of the Divine Messiah, and it is called an ‘O Antiphon,’ because the first word of the prayer begins with the exclamation ‘O,’ for example, the last antiphon on December 23 begins, “O Emmanuel!”
Each antiphon also contains a prophesy of the Messiah from the prophet Isaiah.
The Antiphons are also the verses of the Advent hymn “O Come Emmanuel” (Veni Emmanuel, in Latin), and in a way, they all point us toward that climax on Christmas Day, as Emmanuel is the name for our Savior: God is with us!
In fact, the names in the antiphons for the Messiah who is to come spell out a secret phrase in Latin once we arrive to Christmas Eve, when our expectation for the Lord’s arrival is about to burst.
The O Antiphons
- December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
- December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
- December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
- December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
- December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
- December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
- December 23: O Emmanuel (O With Us is God)
The secret phrase from Jesus embedded in these antiphons is “I will be present tomorrow!”
Here is how it works.
Starting with the last antiphon (Dec 23), if you take the first letter of the name for the Messiah in each antiphon, you end up with the following letters: ERO CRAS, which means “I will be (ero) tomorrow (cras)” in Latin.
Since Christmas Eve begins (liturgically) after the Church’s Evening Prayer on December 23, the phrase “I will be present tomorrow,” culminates the antiphons we’ve been praying during the Christmas Novena in preparation for his coming to be with us on Christmas Day. It is as though he answers our prayer when the Church completes the antiphons with “O Emmanuel.”
During this octave, I will post a short reflection on the antiphon for the day each day, along with some scripture verses that accompany the day’s hymn, in order to aid your contemplation of our Lord’s Incarnation and coming to be with us.
I leave you with this video of the ‘O Antiphons.’ This modern version of the hymns is based on the melody of the ancient Gregorian Chant hymns sung during the Novena of Christmas during the Liturgy of the Hours. I find it deeply beautiful and moving and hope it helps you to pray well during these final days of Advent while you prepare to receive our Lord into your hears and homes on Christmas Day.
O Antiphons posts for 2013:
- December 17: O Sapientia, O Wisdom
- December 18: O Adonai
- December 19: O Root (and Fruit) of Jesse
- December 20: O Clavis David
- December 21: O Oriens
- December 22: O Rex Gentium
- December 23: O Emmanuel
More about the O Antiphons from CatholicCulture.org: Includes some great tips for using the O Antiphons for family activities during the Christmas Octave.