Perhaps one of the lesser-known Advent customs is the O Antiphons, seven responses – or antiphons – that are recited or sung leading up to Christmas. They introduce the Magnificat, or Canticle of Mary, at Evening Prayer during the special period of Advent preparation known as the Octave before Christmas from Dec. 17 through Dec. 23.
Feasts traditionally begin on the eve of their celebration, so the O Antiphons end Dec. 23 because Christmas begins at sundown on Dec. 24.
Composed in the sixth or seventh century, the seven O Antiphons are drawn from the Book of Isaiah. Each of them begins with a traditional title for Christ. The last one is “O Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”
This Advent is a good time to bring these antiphons into our daily prayers.
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
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.
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!
Jesus resting on a manger while light from the star filters into the room. Photo by Gino Santa Maria/Shutterstock.