4th Week of Advent: The Wondrous “O” Antiphons

We come, at last, to the final week of Advent today.  Even though this year it is barely one day long since Christmas falls on Monday (something that isn’t common and hasn’t happened since 2006), the fourth week of advent is crucial in the advent journey to Christmas.  This week is the final preparation for the coming of the Nativity of Our Lord at Christmas.  Everything around us beginning on December 17 (regardless of the week of Advent it falls in) reflects this final push to Christmas, most especially the liturgy in which we celebrate. 

At daily Mass the Gospel readings recount the narratives of the St. John the Baptist announcing the coming of the Light (Dec. 17), St. Joseph and his “yes” to God in being the foster father of Jesus fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah (Dec. 18), Zechariah and his encounter with the Angel Gabriel who announced the birth of John (Dec. 19), Mary and her “yes” to God to be the Mother of God at the Annunciation (Dec. 20), Mary visiting Elizabeth after both had conceived (Dec. 21), Mary’s song of praise (the Magnificat) after greeting Elizabeth (Dec. 22), the birth of John the Baptist (Dec. 23), and finally the song of thanksgiving of Zechariah after the birth of John called the Benedictus (Dec. 24).

Another way in which the liturgy continues to point to the coming of the Messiah is in the “O” Antiphons.  Antiphons, defined by Blessed John Henry Newman in his book “Tracts for the Times, Vol. III” (J.G.F. & J. Rivington, London, & J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1840, pp. 22-23) “…are sentences preceding and succeeding the Separate Psalms and Songs, and are ordinarily verses taken from the particular compositions to which they are attached. They seem to answer the purpose of calling attention to what is coming, of interpreting it, or of pointing out the particular part of it which is intended to bear on Service of the day…. They are repeated at the end, as if to fix the impression or the lesson intended.” (from the OSV article, “What are the O Antiphons?”)  The “O” Antiphons are antiphons surrounding the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) prayed each evening during Vespers (Evening Prayer) in the Liturgy of the Hours during the days of December 17-23.  These antiphons are unique to these days and are called “O” antiphons because each antiphon begins with “O” and precedes a title for the Messiah taken from the Old Testament prophets (mainly Isaiah).  These antiphons express the longing for the coming of the Messiah in ancient Israel, but also in our own lives today.  The antiphons are as follows:

Dec. 17: “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.”

Dec. 18: “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.”

Dec. 19: “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.”

Dec. 20: “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.”

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

Dec. 22: “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.”

Dec. 23: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.”

So, take care to not be complacent this day (and, in other years, more typically a larger part of a week)!  We are in the pinnacle of expectation and anticipation for the coming of Christ, a time to not just let pass us by.  The whole world is awaiting the coming of the Messiah at Christmas to rejoice in the coming of our salvation in the flesh.  The liturgy around us reflect this great theme of heightened anticipation, in particular the Gospel readings and the wondrous “O” Antiphons.  Today on this fourth Sunday of Advent, let us make one final push in our hearts to prepare for the coming of the Lord, knowing that He will come because He always keep His promises to bring us His salvation and love every day of our lives, but in a particular way on Christmas!

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