An ancient Christian tradition is to pray the O Antiphons during the Octave before Christmas. Sometimes called the Greater Antiphons, or the O’s of Advent, these seven responses are sung or recited before and after the Canticle of Mary (the Magnificat) at evening prayer of the Divine Office (and before the Gospel at mass) from 17 December to 23 December. Each Antiphon highlights a name or title for the Messiah, and each one refers to a prophecy of Isaiah of the coming Messiah:

  1. O Sapientia (O Wisdom): Isaiah 11:2–3; 28:29
  2. O Adonai (O Lord): Isaiah 11:4–5; 33:22
  3. O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse): Isaiah 1:1; 11:10
  4. O Clavis David (O Key of David): Isaiah 9:6; 22:22
  5. O Oriens (O Rising Sun): Isaiah 9:1
  6. O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations): Isaiah 9:5; 2:4
  7. O Emmanuel (God with us): Isaiah 7:14

Originally written in Latin, the Church has been singing the O Antiphons since at least the eighth century. 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. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah. Each antiphon is addressed to God using a noble title, petitioning Him to come save His people. Each antiphon is also tied to Mary because she is the vessel through which the Savior will be born. The order of the antiphons climbs climatically through the 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.). In the third, O Radix Jesse, we have come to the time when God was preparing the line of David (about 1100 B.C.). In the fourth, O Clavis David, we have come to the year 1000. In the fifth, O Oriens we see that the line of David is elevated so that the peoples may look on a rising star in the east, and hence in the sixth, O Rex Gentium, we know that He is king of all the world of man. This brings us to the evening before the vigil, and before coming to the town of Bethlehem, we salute Him with the last Great O, O Emmanuel: God with us. It is widely pointed out that if you take the first letter of each Latin name and reverse the order – Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia – the Latin words ERO CRAS are formed, meaning, Tomorrow, I will come. Therefore, the Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, Tomorrow, I will come. The O Antiphons not only bring intensity to our Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion. We can bring these responses into our daily prayer time during the Octave before Christmas as simple reminders of the one whose coming we are joyfully anticipating.

Sometime before the 12th century, selected verses from the antiphons were compiled into the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” It is believed to be among the oldest of all the Christmas hymns. Sing this hymn around your advent wreath each night of the O Antiphons as a beautiful way to draw hearts closer to Christ and to prepare for His coming at Christmas.

Visit the link below to print a beautiful O Antiphons Prayer Companion that includes all the antiphons, symbols, prayers, and food suggestions for each day of the Octave: