An Advent daybook for these 24 days of prayerful expectation. Join me, won't you?
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Look: The Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth, the Young John the Baptist and Two Angels (also known as 'The Large Holy Family'), Raphael
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For the next 7 days of Advent, we’ll be joining in with countless Christians over the centuries who pray the “O Antiphons” the week before Christmas. Read some of the history in the links below.
Advent slightly shifts its focus beginning tomorrow (December 17) when the antiphons for Vespers known as the Greater Antiphons, but more commonly known as the O Antiphons, are sung at the Magnificat. Each O Antiphon addresses Jesus with a title which comes from the prophecies of Isaiah that anticipate the coming of the Messiah. The first letters of the titles in the original Latin in reverse order spell “Ero Cras,” meaning “Tomorrow, I will come.”
In the last few years, starting with the poet-priest Malcolm Guite’s sonnets during Advent, I began to notice references to this prayer tradition. Last year, we incorporated the prayers into our Compline service (using a wonderful resource from our friends at Modern Liturgic) at Church of the Apostles. This year, I’m embedding them into our final week of Advent Daybook posts.
The reality is that most of us who celebrate Christmas have been praying the O Antiphons without ever knowing it. The seven prayers make up the seven verses of the beloved Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. I know I’m not alone in my love for that hymn. I never get tired of it, and enjoy almost every arrangement I’ve ever heard.
For the next 7 days, leading up to Christmas Eve, I’ll keep the same daily format for Advent Daybook posts with the Scripture selections for each of the O Antiphons rather than the selection from the lectionary. I’ll also include a link to each of Malcolm Guite’s 7 sonnets.
Here’s a little bit more of the background to this rich prayer tradition:
From Malcolm Guite: “In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key O Light! come to us!
I have responded to these seven “Great O” Antiphons, as they are called, with seven sonnets, revoicing them for our own age now, but preserving the heart of each, which is a prayer for Christ’s Advent for his coming, now in us, and at the end of time, in and for all. (See these sonnets as the opening sequence in his cycle of sonnets for the liturgical year - Sounding the Seasons or his Advent anthology, Waiting on the Word.)
… we come to the last of the Seven Great O Antiphons, which was sung on either side of the Magnificat on Christmas Eve, O Emmanuel, O God with us. This is the antiphon from which our lovely Advent hymn takes its name. It was also this final antiphon which revealed the secret message embedded subtly into the whole antiphon sequence. In each of these antiphons we have been calling on Him to come to us, to come as Light as Key, as King, as God-with-us. Now, standing on the brink of Christmas Eve, looking back at the illuminated capital letters for each of the seven titles of Christ we would see an answer to our pleas : ERO CRAS the latin words meaning ‘Tomorrow I will come!”
Here’s the list of prayers for each day - working backwards so you can see better the latin acrostic:
December 23 - O Emmanuel: O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the One whom the Gentiles expect, and their Salvation: Come and save us, O Lord our God.
December 22 - O Rex: O King of the Nations, and their Desire; the Cornerstone who dost unite the divided into one: Come and save mankind, whom thou didst create out of clay.
December 21 - O Oriens: O Day-Spring, radiant everlasting Light, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
December 20 - O Clavis: O Key of David, and Scepter of the house of Israel; who openest and no one shutteth, who shuttest and no one openeth; Come and bring the prisoners out of the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
December 19 - O Radix: O Root of Jesse, who standest for an ensign to the peoples, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, and to whom the gentiles shall pray: Come and deliver us, and do not delay.
December 18 - O Adonai: O Lord and ruler of the house of Israel, who didst appear to Moses in a burning bush, and didst give him the law on Sinai: Come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.
December 17 - O Sapientia: O Wisdom, who didst issue out of the mouth of the most High, and dost reach from one end of the world to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.
A few additional resources:
- Modern Liturgic: O Antiphon Reflection
- The Homely Hours: The Great O Antiphons Printable Ornaments
- God With Us: An Advent Retreat with the O Antiphons from Pray-As-You-Go
- You can read thoughtful reflections on each Antiphon at Thinking Faithhere.
(See all Advent Daybook posts from 2017 here.)