The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Praying the "O" Antiphons

Tomorrow evening (December 17) at Vespers, we begin chanting the "O" Antiphons before and after the Magnificat -- one of my favorite parts of Advent! The seven antiphons—one for each day preceding the vigil of Christmas from December 17 to  December 23—are called “O” antiphons because each one begins with “O”. In previous years, I have posted the "O" antiphons we chant each evening in the Archabbey Church, along with some accompanying artwork. Click on the links below to go back and read/view each "O" Antiphon for this year's corresponding date. The opening words for each day’s antiphon are (in Latin, followed by English):
Dec. 17: O Sapientia – O Wisdom
Dec. 18: O Adonai – O Lord 
Dec. 19: O Radix Jesse – O Root of Jesse 
Dec. 20: O Clavis David – O Key of David 
Dec. 21: O Oriens – O Rising Sun 
Dec. 22: O Rex Gentium – O King of the Nations 
Dec. 23: O Emmanuel – [Reference to Isaiah 7:14’s mention of Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us”]
As you can see, each antiphon calls on the Messiah by one of his titles from Scripture and ends with a specific petition imploring the Lord to come. Included are numerous references to the prophecy of Isaiah on the coming of the Messiah.

And, the first initial of each Latin term, read from the last title to the first (Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia) form an acrostic, the Latin words ero cras, which means, “I will come tomorrow.” So, in essence, the seven-day period of calling on the Messiah by his various titles ends just before Christmas with God’s response coming from the other direction: “I will come tomorrow.” Thus, there is a palpable swelling of anticipation leading up to Christmas Eve and the coming of Jesus our Savior, God with us.

To sing or hear each antiphon being chanted is quite beautiful. To be quite honest, when you’re a monk, chanting in choir four times a day, seven days a week, can sometimes be about as unromantic as anything else one does day after day. However, when special times like that of the “O” Antiphons kick in, everyone picks it up a notch, and there is a level of intensity and heartfelt warmth that seem to lift voice and mind simultaneously into the heavens. There is nothing quite like it, and I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience or participate in it at least once.

Barring that, however, each antiphon is a short, rich little prayer unto itself, and is worthy of reciting and meditating on as a personal prayer. The antiphons linked above are accompanied by contemporary paintings by Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ, of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Minnesota. Each piece, presenting the Christ-event from a woman’s point of view, is very colorful, unique, and contemplative.

I invite you to allow the antiphons and accompanying images to embrace your longing for the coming of Christ in each and every human heart, beginning with your own.

A blessed Advent to you!


  1. Thank you for this collection of O Antiphons! Beautiful, I look forward to praying with them again each evening.

  2. The deepest prayer is kind deed, the deepest speech is loving deed..