The Great "O" Antiphons

Here is some information about antiphons that are sung at this time of year in the Divine Office prayers of religious communities (inc. my own) and monasteries around the world Thanks to friend Richard Emblem for the hat tip.

(This sketch of the Seven Antiphons courtesy of Fr. Maurice Gilbert and Sandro Magister of Chiesa.Com) Read more here.


The "O" Antiphons

They're sung one per day, at the Magnificat during vespers from 17 December until the day before Christmas Eve, all of them beginning with an invocation to Jesus, although he is never called by name.

The antiphons are very old, going back to the time of Pope Gregory the Great, around the year 600. They are in Latin, and are inspired by the texts of the Old Testament proclaiming the Messiah. At the beginning of each antiphon, in order, Jesus is invoked as Wisdom, Lord, Root, Key, Star, King, Emmanuel. Read starting from the last, the Latin initials of these words form an acrostic: "Ero cras," meaning: "I will be [there] tomorrow." It is the proclamation of the Lord who comes. The last antiphon, which completes the acrostic, is sung on December 23, and the following day, with first vespers, the feast of the Nativity begins.

Here, then, are the complete texts of the seven antiphons, in Latin and in translation, with highlighting of the initials that form the acrostic "Ero cras," and in parentheses the main references to the Old and New Testament:

I – December 17 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, who come from the mouth of the Most High (Sirach 24:5), you extend to the ends of the earth, and order all things with power and sweetness (Wisdom 8:1): come and teach us the way of wisdom (Proverbs 9:6).

II – December 18 O Adonai, dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extenso.

O Lord (Exodus 6:2, Vulgate), leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2) and on Mount Sinai gave him the law (Exodus 20): come and free us with your powerful arm (Exodus 15:12-13).

III – December 19 O Radix Iesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, who stand as a sign for the peoples (Isaiah 11:10), the kings of the earth are silent before you (Isaiah 52:15) and the nations invoke you: come to free us, do not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).

IV – December 20 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 (Isaiah 22:23), sceptre of the house of Israel (Genesis 49:10), who open and no one may shut; who shut and no one may open: come, free from prison captive man, who lies in darkness and the shadow of death (Psalm 107: 10, 14).

V – December 21 O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae et sol iustitiae: veni et illumina sedentem in tenebris et umbra mortis.

O Star who rises (Zechariah 3:8; Jeremiah 23:5), splendour of the eternal light (Wisdom 7:26) and sun of justice (Malachi 3:20): come and enlighten those who lie in darkness and the shadow of death (Isaiah 9:1; Luke 1:79).

VI – December 22 O Rex gentium et desideratus earum, lapis angularis qui facis utraque unum: veni et salva hominem quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations (Jeremiah 10:7) and their desire (Haggai 2:7), cornerstone (Isaiah 28:16), who reunite Jews and pagans into one (Ephesians 2:14): come and save the man whom you formed from the earth (Genesis 2:7).

VII – December 23 O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium et salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Dominus Deus noster.

O Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14), our king and lawgiver (Isaiah 33:22), hope and salvation of the peoples (Genesis 49:10; John 4:42): come to save us, O Lord our God (Isaiah 37:20).

The journal in which the article by Fr. Maurice Gilbert, "The great Advent antiphons," was published is La Civiltà Cattolica. English translation by Matthew Sherry, Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.


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