Since the seventh century these short prayers have been sung in monasteries all over the world at the evening hour of Vespers for the last seven days of Advent, December 17th to Christmas Eve.
These antiphons are a mosaic of hope, based on biblical references to the coming of Christ into a waiting world.
The antiphons all begin with a title starting with "O". These became the basis of the popular carol "O come, O come, Emmanuel". The initials, when read backwards, form the Latin "Ero Cras" which means "Tomorrow I come."
They are now also used , in shortened form, in the Alleluia verses before the days' Gospel readings. There are many different translations of the original O Antiphons.
The importance of 'O' Antiphons is twofold: each one highlights a title of the Messiah:
O Sapientia : O Wisdom
O Adonai : O Lord
O Radix Jesse : O Root of Jesse
O Clavis David : O Key of David
O Oriens : O Rising Sun
O Rex Gentium: O King of the Nations
and O Emmanuel : O God is With Us
Each one also refers to the prophecy of Isaiah looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.
In the first "O Antiphon" - "O Sapientia" - "O Wisdom", we are drawn into the Old Testament's wisdom literature.
Wisdom is a divine attribute. The divine Wisdom is personified. Wisdom is the beloved daughter who was before Creation, Wisdom is the breath of God's power, Wisdom is the shining of God's transforming glory.
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 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.
23rd DecemberO Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the one whom the peoples await and their Saviour. O come and save us, Lord, our God.