You are most likely familiar with the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” But are you as familiar with its rich history — a great treasure of the Advent season?
In Roman Catholic tradition, the Church begins reciting the Great Antiphons or “O Antiphons” on December 17 through December 23. This is the special period on the Church calendar known as the Octave before Christmas. There are seven antiphons, and a special one is recited each day of the Octave before and after the Magnificat prayer (Luke 1:46-55) during Vespers (evening prayer) of the Liturgy of the Hours. Flanking the antiphons around the Magnificat, or Mary’s Canticle, illuminates the graces God pours out on Israel through Mary’s fiat.
As shown below, each antiphon highlights a different name for Christ inspired by various attributes found in Scripture. You can see they also form the verses to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” In seven various, but interrelated ways, the antiphons voice the ultimate petition of Scripture — “Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).
- December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
- December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
- December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
- December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
- December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
- December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
- December 23: O Emmanuel (O God is with Us)
The first letters of the Latin titles in reverse order (as bolded and underlined above) spell out “ERO CRAS”, which translates to “Tomorrow, I will come”, representing the seven remaining days of Advent preparation before the coming of Jesus.
On each date above, a deeper reflection on the respective antiphon will be linked when posted.