Saturday, December 5, 2020

The O Antiphons: An Introduction


The Great “O” Antiphons

The Magnificat (also called “The Song of Mary”) from Luke 1:46-55 is sung or said every day at Evening Prayer (as the Benedictus, Zechariah’s song, is used with Morning Prayer and the Nunc dimittis, Simeon’s Song, at  Compline). It is customary to use short phrases, called “antiphons,” usually drawn from Scripture, before and after these canticles or songs. Antiphons change by season or special commemoration at each service. 


In the week before Christmas there is a special group of antiphons for use with the Magnificat at Evening Prayer. These antiphons all begin with “O” and have been collected together to form the words to Hymn 56, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” Each verse of this hymn may be said as an antiphon to the Magnificat in the evening during the week before Christmas, in addition to its being sung as a hymn on its own. Many recordings of these antiphons in Latin and English are available online; the chants associated with them are often extremely beautiful.

The “O” antiphons, based mostly on prophesies from Isaiah, address the Messiah in various ways, focusing on his different attributes and gifts to us. Together, they form a rich array of images not only about Advent, but for how we live in Christian expectation throughout our lives.

December 17: O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. 

"The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord." Isaiah 11:2-3

"He is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom." Isaiah 28:29

December 18: O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

“With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins." Isaiah 11:4-5


"For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us." Isaiah 33:22

December 19: O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

"A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." Isaiah 11:1

"On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious." Isaiah 11:10

December 20: O Key of David and scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

"I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open." Isaiah 22:22

"His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore." Isaiah 9:7

"To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." Isaiah 42:7.

December 21: O Morning Star, splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. 

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined." Isaiah 9:2

December 22: O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

"For a child has been born for us, a son given us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

"He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." Isaiah 2:4

"But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Isaiah 64:8

December 23: O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel." Isaiah 7:14

These antiphons have been arranged as an Advent litany in the revised edition of The St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, suitable for use each day in Advent as a way to focus our prayers to God for renewed hope and faith during this season. This litany is available on Fr. Brandon’s blog, as well.

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