December 17 begins the last week before Christmas, and our anticipation of the great celebration that awaits us grows even stronger. The mood of the season shifts liturgically, as well: The gospels this final week focus on the events that immediately preceded the nativity. And the church reaches back into its history for one of its Advent treasures, the “O” Antiphons.
From December 17 through December 23, the church sings these ancient antiphons at evening prayer (vespers), expressing our longing for the Lord to come into our lives. The antiphons are used in the gospel acclamation at daily mass as well. Each day’s antiphon begins with “O”—a word of excitement, wonder, anticipation, awe—the perfect word, in fact, to express our feelings at this time of the year. Each day we address the Lord using different titles given in the Hebrew scriptures. The antiphons may sound familiar to you if you know the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” which is based on them.
These antiphons date back at least 13 centuries, maybe longer! Praying with them at this time of year helps connect us to the generations of faithful who have gone before, those who made faith possible for us, who carried Christ incarnate in their hearts for themselves, those around them, and those who would come after them. May we do the same.
Coordinator of Adult Faith Formation and Young Adult Ministry
Archdiocese of Los Angeles