There are seven short verses (antiphons) sung before the Magnificat on the seven days before Christmas Eve. Each of them ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes more urgent. They each begin with the exclamation "O", so they are called the “O Antiphons.”
The 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 mosaic of scriptural images. They became very popular in the Middle Ages. While the monastic choirs sang the antiphons the great bells of the church were rung.
Each antiphon is addressed to God using a different Latin name: Sapientia (Wisdom), Adonai (Lord), Radix Iesse (Root of Jesse, King David’s father), Clavis (Key), Oriens (Morning), Rex (King), and Emmanuel (from Hebrew – “God-with-us”). The first letter of each Latin invocation written in reverse gives the Latin words: ERO CRAS. This acrostic phrase spells out the response of Christ himself to the heartfelt prayer of his people: "Tomorrow I will be there".
Advent is about the many ways in which the Lord comes. He came historically at Bethlehem in the fullness of time. In the liturgical year he comes to us sacramentally. He will come again at the end of the world as Judge of the living and the dead. He comes to us in the Body and Blood at the Eucharist. He comes in the words of Holy Scripture. He also comes in the person of our neighbor, especially those who are in need of the spiritual and physical works of mercy.
During Advent, John the Baptist has been reminding us in the liturgy to "make straight his paths." When Christ returns to establish God’s kingdom, he will make straight the path whether we have during our earthly lives done our best to straighten it ahead of time or not. Let us now, while we may, make straight the paths by which Christ Jesus comes.
Over the next seven days leading up to Christmas, Agnus Dei will post the O Antiphon for the day with its English translation and its coinciding verse from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Additionally, Pastor Seth has written some poetic reflections for each day. You are invited to use these posts to help anticipate the coming of Christmas. You may use them to guide your prayers today, to reflect on the coming of Christ, or simply as a reminder that Christmas is drawing nearer. Blessings to you in your Advent preparation!