Advent traditions with the O Antiphons
By Aaron Lambert
While the hustle and bustle of the pre- Christmas season brings with it a sense of urgency, we as Catholics are called to the opposite sort of mentality as we prepare for the birth of Our Savior. The days leading up to Christmas are to be days of prayer, penance and preparation, which is why the Church gives us the season of Advent to properly ready our hearts for Christmas.
The season of Advent is rich with meaning and purpose, which are often overshadowed by the impending Christmas holiday. The liturgies during Advent are beautiful, bated-breath celebrations that are meant to draw the faithful into the true meaning of Christmas: when God became one of us and began his work of salvation here on earth.
There are many ways families can more intentionally celebrate Advent. Creating an Advent wreath at the start of the season and lighting the candles each week is one way to impart the significance of the season to your children. During the final days of Advent, however, the Church offers an ancient and timeless way of anticipating the celebration of Christmas: the O Antiphons. These are special prayers that recall the whole of salvation history and anticipate the birth of Christ.
Starting on Dec. 17 and leading up to Christmas Eve, the O Antiphons are recited during evening prayer in the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) before and after the Magnificat. The O Antiphon is also the Alleluia verse before the Gospel at each day’s Mass.
Each antiphon refers to one of Christ’s Messianic titles. In the original Latin, when these
names are put in reverse order, the first letters of the names form an acrostic: the Latin words ERO CRAS, which translates to “Tomorrow, I will come.”
The O Antiphons are a simple yet profound way to pray together as a family and enter into the Advent season more intentionally. We’ve listed each O Antiphon below along with a suggested activity for each one to help form family traditions that will last a lifetime.
DEC. 17: O WISDOM (O SAPIENTA)
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.
While the start of the O Antiphons happens to fall on a Sunday this year, this is not always the case. One concrete way to mark the beginning of these prayers is to find a way to attend daily Mass as a family on this day. Going to Mass is a great way to start the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve and will serve you and your family well in preparing your hearts to welcome Jesus on Christmas Day.
DEC. 18: O LORD AND RULER (O ADONAI)
O Lord and ruler 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.
This day’s antiphon recalls when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. One way to bring this narrative to life is to pray evening prayer by candlelight as a family. Lead your family in a meditation on how the burning bush and the flame from the candle represent Jesus as the light of the world.
DEC. 19: O ROOT OF JESSE (O RADIX JESSE)
O root 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.
Jesse Trees are a very popular Advent tradition, and perhaps making one is already part of your family’s Advent traditions. However, there is another tree that is an important symbol during the Christmas season — you know the one! While there is no right time to set up your Christmas tree, consider waiting until this day to set it up. Then, after doing so, pray a blessing over it. The USCCB offers a beautiful Christmas tree blessing that can be found at usccb.org/prayers/blessing-christmas-tree.
DEC. 20: O KEY OF DAVID (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.
The antiphon for today refers to those who are held captive and calls upon the Lord to free them from their bondage. One way to serve those who may be suffering in such a way is to volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen as a family and share the love of Christ with those who are there. This is a tradition that’s sure to bear fruit for many years to come.
DEC. 21: O RADIANT DAWN (O ORIENS)
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Christ’s messianic title for today is Rising Dawn. To bring this image to life, wake up before sunrise and pray morning prayer as a family. As the light from the sun begins to fill the sky and illuminate the world, lead your family in a meditation using the words from today’s antiphon.
DEC. 22: O KING OF THE NATIONS (O REX GENTIUM)
O King of 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.
Baking treats to share with others is a timeless and tasty way of celebrating the holidays. In honor of today’s antiphon, bake crown-shaped treats to share with your neighbors. You could even leave a note or explain why you made them in the shape of a crown — to represent the kingship of Christ. The best part is that crowns need decorating, making this a fun activity for the whole family.
DEC. 23: O EMMANUEL
O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.
We’ve reached the final antiphon before Christmas Eve. To help usher in the birth of the Savior, prepare the manger for baby Jesus in your home Nativity scene as a family. This could include adding straw or decorating the manger. While you do this, read the Nativity account in the Gospels of Matthew or Luke as a family and relive the greatest event in human history before the true festivities of the Christmas season begin.