The O AntiphonsThrough the ages, the followers of Christ have found various ways to praise His name. During this Holy Season of Advent, the Church calls on the faithful to praise His name in preparation for His coming by praising Christ in the form of the Old Testament names used to describe the coming Messiah. These antiphons are known as the "O Antiphons" because they address the Lord beginning with that very short incantation.
From December 17-December 23, the Vespers (Evening Prayer) of the Liturgy of the Hours includes special antiphons prior to the Magnificat which praise the names of Jesus:
O Sapientia (O Wisdom): “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.” The prophet Isaiah spoke of Christ saying:
“The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” ( Isaiah 28:29).
O Adonai (O Lord):“O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.” Again, Isaiah speaks of the nature of the coming God incarnate as Man:
“But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips” (Isaiah 11:4-5). The Messiah, being the Anointed One, is the ultimate representative of God. As God made Man, he is truly Lord, and the justice He brings to the world is perfect.
O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse):“O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”
“But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (Isaiah 11:1)
The Messiah is the Root of Jesse of the House of David. He is King of Israel. As Christ the King, he will reign over the world with a perfect justice and a rod of iron.
O Clavis David(Key of David):“O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.”
Says Isaiah: I will place the Key of the House of David on His shoulder; when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open.” (22:22), and “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.” (9:6)
The Messiah will reign with the authority of David his forebear, and from David, Jesus’ claim to Regency is confirmed.
O Oriens (O Dawn):“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”
Christ will bring light to those in darkness. This means he will bring salvation to those who have previously not known the Truth.
O Rex Gentium(King of Nations):“O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”
In perhaps the most famous passage of Isaiah, he tells us of Christ: “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”(9:5).
Of his Kingdom there will be no end, we are told.
O Emmanuel(God with Us):“O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.”
Truly, in Christ, God has become one of us. Because of Christ, we can no longer say God doesn’t understand us. He knows what it is like to be tempted, to be hungry, thirsty, tired, to sleep, and to work.
As we celebrate this Holy Season, let us remember just what we are celebrating. Praying the “O Antiphons” in some fashion in the days leading up to Christmas is a way to reflect and to praise God for the miracle that happened at Bethlehem.