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Saturday Weekly Reflections: The Jewel of Advent – The Great “O” Antiphons

By Sr. Doreen, SSJD.

I thought that I would like to share a series of Saturday Musings each week, and since Advent is nearly upon us, the beginning of a new year for the Church, this would be a good time to start! 

Next week is the first Sunday of Advent, and so I thought that I would like to share an introduction to some reflections for Advent centered on the Great “O” antiphons – best made known in the Hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”.  I offer it as one of the ways of entering Advent as an opportunity to journey with a greater sense of God’s nearness, a deeper discovery of God’s presence everywhere, and of waiting for a deeper coming of Jesus into daily life and into creation through prayerful reflection on the Great O Antiphons of Advent.  They contain many of the signposts that can help us develop a spirituality for this century.  They act as a call from God, who calls us into God’s joy and delight, God’s will, to make the world what God created it to be:  full of God’s glory.

What is an antiphon?  It originally meant something sung alternatively by two choirs, and it came to mean a sentence appropriate to the seasons of the Church’s year.  Sometimes sung before and after psalms or canticles.  The origin of the “O” Antiphons is not known.  They were found in writings dated from the ninth century and in liturgical worship, and they are frequently attributed to St. Gregory the Great and the monasteries that he founded.  They open us to the titles given to God in the Old Testament, and become a prayer for the fulfilment of God’s promises.

We ask God to come as

  • O Wisdom and teach us how to live
  • O Lord and Ruler to ransom us, and save and redeem us
  • O Root of Jesse to deliver us into love and out of fear
  • O Key of David  to bring us out of slavery into freedom and open our hearts to love
  • O Morning Star O Radiant Dawn to shed light and life in the darkness of our lives
  • O King of the Nations to bring peace amongst us
  • O God with us to offer hope and bring salvation

These Great “O” Antiphons are sung before the Magnificat at Evensong, and are used on the last days of Advent (beginning December 17th ).  They are, as mentioned, more popularly known in the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (Common Praise #89) or the Avent Litany (BAS p. 119).  They reflect our longing for a Saviour.  They joyfully proclaim the coming of Christmas for the people of God – expressing our hope and our expectation for Christ’s coming into our lives.  They are ancient prayers of expectant hope from the Hebrew scriptures, that express the ache and longing of the chosen people for deliverance and salvation.  They are also modern prayers of expectant hope from the gospel of our own lives and our own world today – longing for Emmanuel, God one of us, to come and save us.

They are jewel sign posts that say “Tomorrow, I will come” – bringing an intensity and a joyful anticipation into our life, into our world as we prepare for Christmas.  The promise of God is always “I shall be there tomorrow”.  In the cave of our hearts, in the fabric of our lives, in the soul of the earth, you continue, O God, to be born.  Come Lord Jesus, quickly come, and speak your last amen.

These are the bright jewels of hope and expectation.  I invite you, over the next four weeks, to prayerful consideration of these jewels.  There will be two “Jewels – Antiphons” offered for reflection each week.  You might chose the one that speaks most to your own deepest desires.  Ponder them and pray them as your own prayer.

In what ways do you long for a greater realization of God’s presence and promises in your life and in our world?

How do the scriptures, images and liturgies of Advent speak to your longing?

In what ways do you sense God’s being born anew into your own context (life, family, work, community, neighbourhood, world)?

What implications does this have on the way you live?

Image Credit: The Great O Antiphons by Linda Henke×186/#main