(O Sapientia)

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,

pervading and permeating all creation,

you order all things with strength and gentleness:

Come now and teach us the way to salvation.

Come, Lord Jesus.

 

(O Adonai)

O Adonai, Ruler of the house of Israel,

you appeared in the burning bush to Moses

and gave him the law on Sinai:

Come with outstretched arm to save us.

Come, Lord Jesus.

 

(O Radix Jesse)

O Root of Jesse, rising as a sign for all the peoples,

before you earthly rulers will keep silent,

and nations give you honor:

Come quickly to deliver us.

Come, Lord Jesus.

 

(O Clavis David)

O Key of David, Scepter over the house of Israel,

you open and no one can close,

you close and no one can open:

Come to set free the prisoners

who live in darkness and the shadow of death.

Come, Lord Jesus.

 

(O Oriens)

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light,

Sun of justice:

Come, shine on those who live in darkness

and in the shadow of death.

Come, Lord Jesus.

 

(O Rex Gentium)

O Ruler of the nations, Monarch for whom the people long,

you are the Cornerstone uniting all humanity:

Come, save us all,

whom you formed out of clay.

Come, Lord Jesus.

 

(O Emmanuel)

 O Immanuel, our Sovereign and Lawgiver,

desire of the nations and Savior of all:

Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Come, Lord Jesus.

         

            Silence

 

God of grace, ever faithful to your promises,

the earth rejoices in hope of our Savior’s coming

and looks forward with longing

to his return at the end of time. Prepare our hearts to

receive him when he comes, for he is Lord forever and ever.   Amen.

 

 

Since at least the 8th century CE, the “O Antiphons” have been sung or chanted in liturgy in the Western Church during the Octave before Christmas (December 17-23). They may have been used as far back as the 5th or 6th century, when there is a reference to them in the writings of Boethius, a philosopher and poet. French Benedictines not so long after were reciting the prayers and then giving gifts to each other.

 

Those same monks arranged the antiphons in such a way that they formed an acrostic. Starting with the last title and taking the first letter of each in turn, they formed the Latin phrase ero cras (“tomorrow, I will come”): Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia. Their creative arrangement reminded them of the promise of Jesus’ advent (coming, parousia): “Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20). 

 

I love this litany! First, for its extreme age. In this time of disposable everything, we need truly ancient traditions that have been developed and shared and valued over the millennia, enriching the lives of countless numbers of believers. In reciting the O Antiphons, we are connected in a deep and enduring way with those who have gone before us.

 

Second, for its imagination. We become so lazy in our address to God and Jesus, preferring only a couple of titles like “Father” or “Lord.” But the Bible is full of wonderful terms that would take our worship and prayer to a new level, if we would but seek them out. The seven words (in Latin) used in the O Antiphons barely scratch the surface of what the Scriptures offer us as a resource for our relationship with our Lord.

 

Third, for its longing and passion. Can’t you feel the ache in these prayers? Surely in these days of economic crisis, unending and fruitless war, genocide, corruption, greed, fear, and on and on, we need the intervention of divine providence that these ancient lines call for. Particularly for those bound in whatever way—by debt, by addiction, by prejudice, by lust for power—these prayers plead for freedom and help. And for us all, in our deathly culture from which we cannot extricate ourselves, there is no other hope for breaking free from the tomb than our God’s swift coming.

 

You readers who worship in a liturgical church that observes Advent and follows the customs of the ages will most likely pray these prayers yourself this Sunday as part of the gathered community. If you do not have that opportunity, I encourage you to use them for personal devotions, ask your pastor to include them next year on the Sunday before Christmas or both.

 

Have a blessed Christmas, and be encouraged by these words “ero cras,” “tomorrow, I will come.”

 

© Tom Cheatham

 

Notes

 

The version of the O Antiphons I use here comes from Book of Common Worship, Presbyterian Church (USA).

 

My source for history is Fr. William Saunders, “What are the ‘O Antiphons’?” http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0374.html

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