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O Antiphons

The “O” Antiphons
Most Catholics are familiar with the Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” But they often don’t know that this hymn is based on seven ancient prayers of the Church dating back to the fourth century—that’s over 1,500 years ago—and have been sung during the season of Advent since the eighth century.

An antiphon is a verse of prayer, a short sentence sung or recited before or after a psalm or canticle (sung prayer). The O Antiphons were composed in the seventh or eighth century when monks put together prophesies from the Old Testament which looked forward to the coming of Christ. Each of the seven antiphons gives voice to the hope of the Saviour's coming. The seven different titles for Jesus are mainly taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The first antiphon starts with the beginning, before creation, and the last ends in the town of Bethlehem—in the stable with Mary and Joseph.

Each of the seven O Antiphons follows the same pattern: each begins with a heartfelt request of the expected Messiah, followed by praise of him under one of his particular titles. Each ends with a petition for God's people, relevant to the title by which he is addressed, and the cry for him to "Come.” As Christmas approaches the cry becomes more urgent.

Each antiphon is assigned to a specific day—one each for the seven days preceding Christmas.

English Title Latin Title Date Old Testament New Testament
O Wisdom O Sapientia Dec. 17th Isaiah 11:2-3 Luke 2:46-47
O Lord O Adonai Dec. 18th Isaiah 33:22 Matthew 21:9
O Root of Jesse’s Stem O Radix Jesse Dec. 19th Isaiah 11:1 Matthew 1:1-16
O Key of David O Clavis David Dec. 20th Isaiah 22:22 Luke 1:32
O Radiant Dawn O Oriens Dec. 21st Isaiah 9:2 Matthew 24:29-30
O King of All Nations O Rex Gentium Dec. 22nd Isaiah 9:6 Luke 1:33
O God is With Us O Emmanuel Dec. 23rd Isaiah 7:14 Matthew 1:22-23

December 17

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

O Wisdom!

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!

O Adonai!

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

O Root of Jesse!

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

O Key of David!

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

O Radiant Dawn!

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

O King of Nations!

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

O Emmanuel!