In the monastic Liturgy of the Hours (morning, midday and evening prayers of the community), antiphons are sung as an introduction and a response to readings of the psalms, the heart of our liturgy, and before and after the Benedictus at the end of morning prayer and the Magnificat at the end of evening prayer. During the last days of Advent we change to special antiphons, the O Antiphons, to accompany the Magnificat, Mary’s song of joy and humility. Sung each evening at the end of evening prayer, they provide an additional layer of hope and expectation.
The origin of the O Antiphons is unclear, but there is evidence of their use in Benedictine monasteries as early as the 5th century, and in the wider Church of Rome in the 8th century. They appear in these liturgies in the final week before Christmas. Each antiphon lifts a different name or title for the Messiah: O Wisdom, O Leader/Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Radiant Dawn, O Ruler, O Emmanuel. In addition, the first letter of the Latin for each antiphon, from last to first, spells out “Ero cras,” or “Tomorrow I come.” One may imagine that these additions to the liturgy provided (and still provide) an additional focal point for prayer and meditation as the faithful travel through that final week toward Bethlehem.
We invite you to incorporate the O Antiphons into your Advent journey. Gathered in this blog are the texts of the antiphons we sing at Holy Wisdom Monastery. Text and music is adapted from the traditional Latin antiphons by Colleen Winston, OSB, St Walburg Monastery, KY. Brief suggestions for meditation written by Joan Chittister, OSB, follow each antiphon.
“Wisdom: the ability to see the world as God sees it. Try reading the newspaper today through the eyes of a God who was born in a stable, counted to be of no account, hounded by society from one place to another.” – Joan Chittister, OSB
“When we build a vision of life it is necessary to realize that Jesus must be the center of it – not our institutions, good as they may be; not our plans or personal talents, necessary as they are.” – Joan Chittister, OSB
O Root of Jesse
“It takes generations to build the Christ vision in the world, just as it took generations after Jesse to prepare for the coming of the Christ. It is our task to root ideas now that will bring the next generation to wholeness.”
– Joan Chittister, OSB
(photo by Gregory Bleck)
O Key of David
“We are called to the kind of Christian commitment that opens doors and breaks down barriers between people, that brings unity to a divided world. Try to unlock one door that is keeping someone locked out of your heart.” – Joan Chittister, OSB
(photo by Nick Wilkes)
O Radiant Dawn
“The celebration of the God of Growth in our lives – those moments of insight in which life comes newly alive in me – helps us to recognize those moments of insight in which life comes newly alive and I begin to see differently, to live differently, to function differently. A new friend, a new work, a new idea are all ‘radiant dawns’ in life that can enable me to become more than I ever dreamed I could.” – Joan Chittister, OSB
(photo by Gregory Bleck)
“We are not the beginning and the end of the universe. We are part of a vision of humankind, seen in Jesus, and yet to be achieved in us, a vision of global sharing, universal peace and individual security.” – Joan Chittister, OSB
(artwork by Rosy Kandathil, OSB)
“Jesus Emmanuel has already come. It is not a matter now of Christ’s being where we are; it is a matter of our being in the consciousness of where Christ is in life and where He is not as well. Where is Christ for you? Is there a place in your life that you know down deep is not in the spirit of Christ at all?” – Joan Chittister, OSB