What are the O Antiphons?
An ancient tradition of Advent is the recitation of the O Antiphons: seven responses, or antiphons, that are sung or recited to introduce the canticle of Mary (the Magnificat) at evening prayer from December 17 to December 23, the octave before Christmas. These antiphons are based on Isaiah’s prophecies and refer to the different ancient titles given to the Messiah:
O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord)
O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
O Clavis David (O Key of David)
O Oriens (O Rising Sun)
O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
O Emmanuel (God with us)
The importance of the O Antiphons is twofold: Each one highlights a title for the Messiah and each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah.
O Sapientia: 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.
Isaiah had prophesied, The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2-3), and Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom. (Isaiah 28:29).
O Adonai: 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.
Isaiah had prophesied, But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the lands afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. (Isaiah 11:4-5); and Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us. (Isaiah 33:22).
O Radix Jesse: 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.
Isaiah had prophesied, But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. (Isaiah 11:1), and A On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11:10). Remember also that Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in Davids city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:1).
O Clavis David: 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.
Isaiah had prophesied, I will place the Key of the House of David on His shoulder; when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open. (Isaiah 22:22), and His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from Davids throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever. (Isaiah 9:6).
O Oriens: O Radiant Dawn, splendour of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Isaiah had prophesied, The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown. (Isaiah 9:1).
O Rex Gentium: 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.
Isaiah had prophesied, For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counsellor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:5), and He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. (Isaiah 2:4) .
O Emmanuel: O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Saviour of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.
Isaiah had prophesied, The Lord himself will give you this sign: the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.
(Isaiah 7:14). Remember Emmanuel means God is with us.
The O Antiphons form an acrostic: Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia – the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, Tomorrow, I will come. The O Antiphons not only bring intensity to our Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion.
Info courtesy of Saunders, Rev. William. “What are the O Antiphons?” Arlington Catholic Herald.