The O Antiphons: A Beautiful Grace to Live More Fully the Last Days of Advent

I love and cherish the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel!” 
It’s beauty and profound meaning help me live more fully these last days of Advent.
May this gathering of the ancient texts, artwork, 
the incredible teachings by Sharon Doran linked within each day’s mediations and text, 
as well as different versions of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in video 
be a treasury of grace for us.
In this hectic, sinful world in which we live, 
may these devotions help us rejoice
and make room in our souls and in our families
for Jesus this Christmas and always.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel nascetur pro te Israel!

Here is the hymn in song and art:

The “O Antiphons” of Advent

The Roman Church has been singing the “O” Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.

As noted above, monks from earliest times wrote beautiful short stanzas of a hymn that they would sing during the Octave before Christmas. The Church would sing the stanzas before and after reciting or sing the hymn of Mary, the Magnificat, found in Luke 1: 46-55, sung during Vespers each evening. 

Each antiphon, (a short verse), starts with an “O” followed by a Name of the long-awaited Messiah – Who was the source of all hope and longing for His Chosen people, Israel, in the Old Testament. The people of Israel had rejected God’s covenant, which resulted in them being crushed by the Babylonians and seemingly abandoned by God as they were forced to live in exile from their beloved and Holy City and Temple of Jerusalem. 

During these 70 years of captivity, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah — promising His People a Savior, born of a virgin, Who would be called Emmanuel, a name meaning: “God With Us!” 

This Promised Savior would lead His Chosen People back from their evil, gathering them together so they could again love and serve God in Jerusalem. 

Isaiah, also revealed that the Messiah, whom they so longed for, was:

1. The same God Who created and governed the universe – the Wisdom and Word from on High. 

2. The Holy Lord of Mt. Sinai Who revealed Himself in the burning bush as an non-consuming, unquenchable fire; and Who, later on the same mountain, would give His Chosen People the Ten Commandments – the Law of God – so they would know what actions would bring LIFE or to Death to them (what would lead them toward or away from God).

3. The Son of David, the shoot Who would come from David’s father Jesse, Who was promised to sit on His David’s throne and rule in justice forever.

4. The Key of David, Who alone could open up the gates of the kingdom of heaven by destroying the power of sin and death that kept God’s children from eternal glory.

5. The Radiant Dawn, Who’s Light shatters the darkness of sin and death.  

6. The King of All Nations Who would draw all people to Himself – including Gentiles and non- believers — into One just and glorious, everlasting kingdom.

7. The Promised Emmanuel, Who would ransom all who were held captive, and would be the fulfillment of all the Covenantal promises and prophesies of God. 

As we ponder the following verses, dear Mary, help us acknowledge their richness and help us unpack the Scripture they teach, as they remind us how Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s promises and the seven-fold names or titles of the Messiah given through the prophet Isaiah.

Holy Spirit, come to us to help us, imbue each verse of this beautiful hymn so that it resonates within us, helping us to recognize and cherish how Jesus continues to fulfill all the Promises of God in our lives. 

All you holy ancient saints, help us long for Jesus and beg Him to come to us as you so desperately longed for the Savior! 

Helix Nebula – a photographic image that beautifully represents the eye of God

December 17

SING: O Come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter,
suaviter disponensque omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care:
Come and show your people the way to salvation.

Lord of Lords present in the Burning Bush

December 18

SING:  O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel,
qui Moyse in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

Jesse’s Tree Culminating in Jesus, the Christ

December 19

SING:  O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

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 Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

The Key of David breaking down the prison of Hades

December 20

SING:  O Come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel,
qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperuit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis. 

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel,
controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
Come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death;
and lead your captive people into freedom.

December 21

SING:  O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.

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

Jesus: The King of Kings

December 22

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti. 

O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart;
O Keystone of the mighty arch of man:
Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

SING:  O Come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.

Emmanuel, God with Us, Savior of All

December 23

SING: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
expectratio gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos,
Domines, Deus noster. 

O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations, Savior of all people:
Come and set us free, Lord our God.

When viewed from Christmas Eve backward, the first letters of the Latin texts (Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia) 
 spell out the phrase:

 ero cras (“I will come tomorrow”).


Let us REJOICE! 


Let us cry out with longing:

Come, O Lord Jesus! Come!

This site lists the Scripture verses that coincide with each antiphon. It was also where I accessed the Antiphon texts.

For more insights and beautiful music to ponder and enjoy: 

A History of the O Antiphons:

O Come Emmanuel by the Piano Guys: 
This link includes Paintings created for each O Antiphon.

© Janet Moore. 2018. All Rights Reserved.
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