In the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours, Evening Prayer, also know as Vespers, always includes the great prayer of Mary known as the Magnificat. Each day, the Magnificat is preceded by a short verse or “antiphon” that links the prayer to the feast of the day or the season of the year. In the last seven days of Advent (December 17-24), the antiphons before the Magnificat are very special. Each begins with the exclamation “O” and ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes increasingly urgent. These moving “O Antiphons” were composed in the seventh or eighth century when monks put together texts from the Old Testament which looked forward to the coming of our salvation. They form a rich, interlocking mosaic of scriptural images. The great “O Antiphons” became very popular in the Middle Ages whenit became traditional to ring the great bells of the church each evening as they were being sung. A particularly fascinating feature of the O Antiphons is that the first letter of each invocation, when read backwards, forms an acrostic in Latin: the first letters of Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, and Emmanuel in reverse form the Latin words: ERO CRAS. These can be understood as the words of Christ, responding to his people’s plea, saying ”Tomorrow I will be there.” Saying the O Antiphons as a family, whether during grace at meals, in front of the manger scene, or in front of the Christmas tree, is a wonderful Advent devotion. To make this devotion even more fruitful, read and meditate together on the Scripture texts on which the antiphons are based.
December 17th: “O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner. O come to teach us the way of truth.”