Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Wednesday 23 June |
Saint of the Day: Bl. Ioan Suciu
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

The Great O Antiphons, an Advent tradition

O Antiphons

Elena | Flickr CC BY 2.0

Fr. Jacob Bertrand Janczyk, OP - published on 12/16/19

Since the 8th century, these chants have been sung at the beginning of the Magnificat each evening from December 17 through December 23. 

The season of Advent is full of mystery and anticipation. During these weeks, the Church’s liturgy leads the faithful patiently, yet deliberately, through the prophecies of the Old Testament, particularly the prophet Isaiah, to the silence and beauty of the Nativity. Our incarnate Lord, lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, is the fulfillment of all hope, and these last days of Advent are ushered in by the great O Antiphons –– seven antiphons, or short chants, that are sung at the beginning of the Magnificat each evening at Vespers (Evening Prayer) from December 17 through December 23. 

The O Antiphons have been chanted in the Church since at least the 8th century. There are many levels to the symbolism and foreshadowing of the antiphons. Individually, they each speak on their own, addressing our Lord by a different title or name given to him in Old Testament prophecies, imploring him to come and save his people. These antiphons are called the “O Antiphons” because each chant begins with great cry, “O …” :

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 Dayspring
O Rex Gentium — O King of the Nations
O Emmanuel — O God with Us

Collectively, they speak too. Looking at the titles, we find an acrostic. Taking the first letter of each antiphon, working in reverse, we see the Latin words ERO CRAS. Literally, these words translate to, “Tomorrow I will be,” or perhaps more appropriately for Advent and the impending Nativity, “Tomorrow I will come.”

The text of each antiphon is scriptural and propheticthe words of the chant are all based on passages from Isaiah that introduce us to the coming Christ-child. It seems every Christian knows the hymn setting of the O Antiphons: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”Over the next seven days of Advent we will dive into each of these antiphons with the help of the pope and outstanding preacher, St. Leo the Great (d. 461), whose 21-year pontificate Pope Benedict XVI called, “Undoubtedly one of the most important in the Church’s history.”

No matter the form in which we know the antiphons, these remaining days of Advent shouldwith the help of these beautiful and ancient chantsdraw our minds and hearts to the King of Kings as we explore our Catholic tradition and prophecy from of old, joyfully awaiting  the coming of our Savior. 

AdventSacred Music
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Zelda Caldwell
Catholic priest’s chapel is finalist in “Shed of the Year&#...
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio’s favorite prayer of petition
Zoe Romanowsky
Animated film shows the power of fatherhood in just one minute
Philip Kosloski
Can Catholics use the Enneagram personality system?
Theresa Civantos Barber
5 Thoughtful ways to honor a priest this Father’s Day
Bret Thoman, OFS
What Padre Pio saw in the Spanish Flu of 1918
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to the “Holy Mothe...
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.