The Great “O”
Advent #22, 23, 24
Prayers said in the evening were called Vespers. It was one way to end the day with a reminder to be grateful as well as that we end the day as we began, living in our faith. In the Christian tradition, particularly that of the roman Catholic Church, the evening prayers always included a prayer attributed to Mary, the mother of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. This prayer is called the Magnificat.
The Magnificat prayer is said following an introductory verse called an antiphon that referenced the day on which the prayer was being said to the church calendar. Very much like the waiting for Elijah that marks the Hanukah feast, the last seven days of Advent vespers included special antiphons that involved a request for the chosen messiah to make His appearance. The request is quite clear and each advent antiphon begins with “O”.
It is believed that these antiphons, these prayers for the arrival of the promised Messiah or deliverer were written in either the seventh or eighth century. Using the writings of the prophet Isaiah, these prayers create a powerful image or mosaic of the anticipated salvation the birth of such a personage would bring. Thus, the ringing of bells often preceded their being said.
Each antiphon illustrates a different aspect of this coming Messiah and when the titles of each are put together in reverse as if one phrase, they become “Ero Cras” which translated from Latin into the English phrase” I will come tomorrow”. The antiphons tell of a spirit of wisdom, lord or godliness, one from the root of Jesse and the key of David, the rising sun, the king, and Emmanuel. In Latin, they were Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, and Emmanuel.
I will confess that I wanted to post this on Dec 17th when the great “O Antiphons” of Advent are first begun to be prayed. However, it is not my intention to host a completely Christian blog and so I refrained. You can still say them today and then save this post for next year. Like the Advent wreath that many use to help remember the anticipation of the season, these seven antiphons can be said as a prayer before the evening meal or as a devotional.
O Sapientia (Is. 11:2-3; 28:29): “O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner. O come to teach us the way of truth.”
O Adonai (Is. 11:4-5; 33:22): “O Adonai and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai. O come and save us with your mighty power.”
O Radix Jesse (Is. 11:1, 10): “O stock of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations; kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim. O come to deliver us, and do not delay.”
O Clavis David (Is. 9:6; 22:22): “O key of David and scepter of Israel, what you open no one else can close again; what you close no one can open. O come to lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
O Oriens (Is. 9:1): “O Rising Sun, you are the splendor of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
O Rex Gentium (Is. 2:4; 9:5): “O King whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay.”
O Emmanuel (Is. 7:14) : “O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Savior. O come and save us, Lord, our God.”
It is said that the most often repeated prayers are “Lord, help” and “Good Lord, deliver us”. I find it most interesting that the last great “O” says just that: “O come and save us, Lord.”