On December 17th, the Church’s Advent liturgy begins to focus in a particular way on the Nativity of the Lord. The prayers, readings, and preface at Mass as well as the readings, antiphons for the Gospel canticles, intercessions, and prayers at the Liturgy of the Hours concentrate more resolutely on the coming feast of the Nativity of the Lord than they did during the preceding days of Advent.
The great “O Antiphons” have a particular role in these days as they have been used for centuries as the antiphons for the Magnificat. Each antiphon, always sung in a very similar melody, begins with a title of Christ, usually taken from the Old Testament, and is followed by the petition that he come to us (veni) and act on our behalf:
December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
December 19: O Radix Iesse (O Root of Jesse)
December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
December 21: O Oriens (O Daystar) [after this date, the days begin to get longer]
December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
December 23: O Emmanuel (O God-with-Us)
When taken together from the last title to the first, the first letters of each title form the wonderful Latin acrostic:
As such, they form the Lord’s response to the Church’s ardent petition that he come (veni):
Ero cras (I will be there tomorrow)!
Below are some reflections on the various “O Antiphons”.
The O Antiphons, which celebrate the incarnation of the Word of God who comes to make all things new, begin with the invocation of that Word as the very Wisdom of the Father. O Sapientia, O Wisdom, is personified in the Old Testament. We read in Sirach 24:3 exactly what we sing about at the beginning of this antiphon. Wisdom came forth from the mouth of the Most High and mist like covered the earth. We celebrate that same Wisdom who fixed his abode in Zion and who in the chosen city was given his rest. In the second part of the antiphon, Wisdom 8:1 is referenced which sings of that Wisdom which reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things well. In the Advent mystery, we celebrate and long for the Son of God who has gone forth from the Most High and who enters into our world for our salvation. Creative wisdom comes to create anew. It is this Wisdom of God who orders all things strongly and sweetly. We pray that he come (veni) and teach us the way of prudence, the virtue, as we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it. Prudence is, therefore, known as the auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues) as it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure.