O Antiphons: A Call Out to Christ (2024)

The text of O come, O come, Emmanuel is based on the O Antiphons, which were part of the Roman rite’s monastic vespers during the last week of Advent. Each verse begins with a call out to Christ by one of his titles in scripture (O come, Emmanuel; O come, Wisdom from on high, etc…)”

by Michael Redmond

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Advent is a season of reflection and hope, opening the church’s liturgical year by preparing for the coming of Christ in various senses — at Bethlehem, within the believer’s heart, and in majesty on the Last Day. We focus on the promise of Christ made through the prophets long ago; on that promise already fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and on that promise still be to be fulfilled at the Second Coming.

The church observes Advent by special readings and practices, including Advent wreaths and calendars, evensong, and the service of Nine Lessons and Carols; the church also encourages believers to incorporate Advent into their daily prayer life during the season’s four weeks. One way of doing so spotlights one of the most popular hymns of the season, O come, O come, Emmanuel (No. 56, The Hymnal 1982). The Latin hymn has a fascinating history, and its verses, adapted by the prolific hymnographer John Mason Neale (1818 – 1866), offer a day-by-day template for reflection. One may sing each day’s verse, of course, or simply say it as the day’s Advent prayer.

The text of O come, O come, Emmanuel is based on the O Antiphons, which were part of the Roman rite’s monastic vespers during the last week of Advent. Each verse begins with a call out to Christ by one of his titles in scripture (O come, Emmanuel; O come, Wisdom from on high, etc.), and most end with a petition for some grace or blessing. The language of each verse is rich with scriptural allusion, particularly from the prophet Isaiah. One can pray this hymn one verse a day. The following is their order in Neale’s adaptation.

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. (Isa. 7:14; Mal. 3:1; Mt. 1:21−23).

O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. (Isa. 11:2−3; Wis. 8:1; Prov. 9:1)

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell thy people save, and give them victory o’er the grave. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. (Isa. 11:1−4; 45:23; 52:13; Luke 1:32−33)

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. (Mal. 3:20; Isa. 9:1; Ps. 107:14)

O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. (Isa. 22:22; 42:6−7; Luke 4:16−19)

O come, O come, great Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times once gave the law in cloud and majesty and awe. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. (Ex. 3:1−8; 20:1−20; Deut. 26:5−9)

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree, an ensign of thy people be; before thee rulers silent fall; all peoples on thy mercy call. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. (Isa. 11:1−4; 45:23; 52:13; Luke 1:32−33)

O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. (Isa. 28:16; Gen. 2:7; Mt. 21:42; 1 Peter 2:4−5)

The O Antiphons are among the most ancient texts we have from the Western monastic office. The Christian philosopher Boethius refers to them while writing in the sixth century. As for the plainchant tune of O come, O come, Emmanuel, its earliest provenance is a 15th century French processional, although it is likely older. Many composers of note have set the O Antiphons to music, including Carlo Gesualdo and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and in our own day, Peter Hallock, Healey Willan, and James MacMillan.

A commentary on AnglicanOnline.org, reads, “ … in addition to bringing together Hebrew prophecies about the coming of the Christ Child, the antiphons include a substantial pre-Christmas wish-list. When we pray them, we ask — not always disguising our impatience very well —for instruction in the way of prudence; for redemption with an outstretched arm; for deliverance; for the release of prisoners out of the prison house; for enlightenment and for salvation.

“The Os pull together the Church’s voice of prayer in supplication for prophetic and apocalyptic intangibles. And still, when we are finished praying them, we must wait a little more. Waiting becomes a positive good in the Os, a thing to be undertaken and even enjoyed not for its own sake, but for the sake of the One to be born at the end of the waiting.”

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel first appeared in Neale’s Medieval Hymns and Sequences (1851). Neale’s adaptation was included in the Church of England’s official hymnal in 1861 and quickly found a place in many Protestant hymnals.

On the web:

* O Come, O Come, Emmanuel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xtpJ4Q_Q-4

* The Great Advent Antiphons (plainchant with accompaniment): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhK_SjfMDX4

* About John Mason Neale: http://satucket.com/lectionary/JMNeale.htm

O Antiphons: A Call Out to Christ (1)

A versatile editor and writer with an extensive background in daily journalism, Michael Redmond, is a regular contributor to the Delaware Communion and a member of the diocesan communications team.

Delaware Communion
Digital Magazine

Winter 2023/24 edition

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What is the prayer for the O Antiphons? ›

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. Prayer: Christ, the Word of the Father, through all the ages You have cared for Your people as a shepherd his flock, as a mother her child, as a potter his clay.

What is an antiphon in the Bible? ›

An antiphon (Greek ἀντίφωνον, ἀντί "opposite" and φωνή "voice") is a short chant in Christian ritual, sung as a refrain. The texts of antiphons are usually taken from the Psalms or Scripture, but may also be freely composed.

What are the seven 7 O Antiphons? ›

The importance of O Antiphons is twofold: Each one highlights a title for 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), and O Emmanuel .

What is the prayer of the first antiphon? ›

The First Antiphon. Bless the Lord, O my soul; blessed art Thou, O Lord. * Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name. * Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all that He hath done for thee.

What is the O my Jesus prayer? ›

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are in most need of Thy mercy.

What is the O Antiphon sequence? ›

O Antiphon Sequence was conceived as a recital piece, although each of its individual movements would also work in a liturgical context. Each movement is a response to an extract of liturgical text from the 'O Antiphons' used at Vespers during the last seven days of Advent in Western Christian traditions.

Why are the O Antiphons important? ›

They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well.

What is the difference between a psalm and an antiphon? ›

You have most likely observed that the Responsorial Psalm changes from day to day, but the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion Antiphons do as well! So, what is an antiphon? The short answer is that an antiphon is another psalm that is selected for that specific day to go along with the readings for the Mass of the day.

When should the Communion antiphon be said? ›

Otherwise the priest himself says it after he has received Communion and before he gives Communion to them” (nos. 86, 87). Therefore, it appears that when used, the Communion antiphon should be begun during the priest's reception of Communion or before the people receive.

What do the O Antiphons spell? ›

Secondly, beginning with the last of the Messianic titles and working forward, the first letter of each title (Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai and Sapientia) spells “ERO CRAS”, Latin for “Tomorrow, I will come.” This literary device is a clever way to aid meditation upon the Incarnation.

What are the antiphons of the Blessed Virgin Mary? ›

Many Catholics know how to sing the hymn, “Salve Regina” (“Hail Holy Queen”) but most are less familiar with three other great Marian hymns that are traditionally sung during the four seasons of the liturgical year: “Alma Redemptoris Mater,” “Ave Regina Caelorum,” and “Regina Coeli.”

What is the first O Antiphon? ›

The order of the antiphons climb climatically through our history of Redemption. In the first, O Sapientia, we take a backward flight into the recesses of eternity to address Wisdom, the Word of God. In the second, O Adonai, we have leaped from eternity to the time of Moses and the Law of Moses (about 1400 B.C.).

What is the meaning of antiphon in the Bible? ›

1. : a psalm, anthem, or verse sung responsively. 2. : a verse usually from Scripture said or sung before and after a canticle, psalm, or psalm verse as part of the liturgy.

How do you pray antiphons? ›

Beginning on December 17, establish a time when you will focus on the antiphon for each day. Maybe you can begin with the Lord's Prayer or sing the verse from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” that fits with that day's antiphon. Then read the antiphon for the day, followed by one or two of the related Scripture passages.

What did Jesus tell us to do to be saved? ›

That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

What is the prayer of the third antiphon? ›

The Prayer of the Third Antiphon

For You, O God, are good and love mankind, and to You we offer glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. People: Amen.

Are the O Antiphons prayed during Vespers? ›

These are seven short texts that the Church prays every year as the season of Advent draws to a close, between 17th and 23rd December. They are prayed in the Gospel Acclamation at Mass, and in the Magnificat Antiphon at Evening Prayer (Vespers).

What is the O Lord prayer Catholic? ›

O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, for ever and ever. Amen. At the Saviour's command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

What is the O God rosary prayer? ›

Let us pray: O God, whose Only Begotten Son, by his life, Death, and Resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech thee, that while meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through ...


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