The O Antiphons

The third week of Advent has begun, but aside from lighting the rose candle on our Advent wreath, what else is different about this week?

Monsignor Stuart Swetland, host of Go Ask Your Father™, explained the difference between the first and second half of Advent – and what to watch for to dive deeper into the beauty of the season.

Msgr. Swetland explained that in the first half of Advent the liturgy focuses on the Second Coming of Christ, the moment in history that will end history, and usher in the Kingdom that will be the perfection of all things in Christ.

“Our prayers and our focus for the last two weeks has been on that reality, that there will be a Second Coming,” Msgr. Swetland said. “There will be a day of judgment. There will be a day when this order as we know it is passing away, and the new heaven and new earth will become real.  We long for that day, we yearn for that day, we desire that day, we look forward in hope for that day. And we pray: Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!”

But with the third Sunday of Advent, that shifts. We look back in history to the first coming of Jesus. We begin by looking at the historical reality of the fact that God became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

“A sign that we have begun that second half of Advent is the beginning of the prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours, in the Evening Prayer. They are called the O Antiphons,” Msgr. Swetland explained. “These are the great antiphons that make up the song O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. There are seven of them leading up to December 25th and then into our Christmas season, that each highlight a different aspect of the mystery of the Incarnation.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops web site says of the O Antiphons, “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.”

You can find the O Antiphons below, and pray them during Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours, or you can sing them as you light your Advent wreath each evening. It is a beautiful way to enter more deeply into the second half of Advent.

December 17
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

December 18
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!

December 19
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!

December 20
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!

December 21
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.

December 22
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!

December 23
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!