The O Antiphons

12-18-2019Pastor's Letter

One of the best-loved Advent hymns we sing is "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". The verses of that stirring song are comprised of what the Church calls the Advent "O antiphons".

The O antiphons were composed in the 7th or 8th century by an anonymous monk. These seven, short poetic verses, in today's liturgy, are intoned or recited as the Alleluia verse before the Gospel at Mass, and as the antiphon for the Magnificat at vespers. Each Advent, the Church begins singing the O antiphons on December 17—seven days before Christmas.

In structure, each of the O antiphons is made up of three parts. The first part is an invocation of Jesus by way of a title derived from an Old Testament prefiguring of Christ. The second part expands and elaborates on that invocation, at the same time conveying our grateful appreciation of God's providence at work wondrously in Jesus. Finally, each O antiphon closes with a fervent bidding that the Messiah come to us.

Taken together, the awesome O antiphons express our loving humility before God, our hope-filled powerlessness, and our confident trust and faith in God's promises.​