Crossposted with Family Feast and Feria
Although not highlighted on most calendars, December 17 is a red letter day. This date marks the second part of Advent, the beginning of the O Antiphons. The O Antiphons are seven precious jewels of our Catholic Liturgy, counting down the last seven days before Christmas with building anticipation. The title O Antiphons is simply because each phrase begins with an “O”.
Dating back to the fourth century, these antiphons address Christ with seven magnificent Messianic titles: O Sapientia (Wisdom), O Adonai (Lord and Ruler), O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Key of David), O Oriens (Dawn of the East), O Rex Gentium (King of the Gentiles), and O Emmanuel (God With Us) that are based on the Old Testament prophecies and types of Christ. Put in reverse order: Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, and Sapienta, the first letters of these Messianic titles spell out the Latin words ERO CRAS, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” The antiphons sum up in excellence the longing of our Redeemer, and we echo the prayers of the Old Testament faithful by also begging Him to “Come!”
I’m very fond of this time of Advent. This is a little “pick-me-up” that helps us refocus on the two-fold coming of Christ at Christmas, as described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
524 When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.. The outward preparations for Christmas can be distracting, and by this time, I often have lost focus on the true meaning of Advent preparation. Our Advent endeavors and resolutions haven’t always come to fruition. The O Antiphons remind me that Christ comes in seven days, and although the outward preparations can cause a frenzy, the O Antiphons beckon me to relax and invite Christ to come into my heart. The urgent “Come!” reminds me of a child’s eager and impatient waiting for Christmas Eve.
If we try to make our own the thought of these antiphons on their proper days, letting their ardent aspirations dominate our prayer life, our minds and hearts will surely be more closely attuned to the mind and heart of the Church as she prepares for the coming of her King. (With Christ Through the Year, Rev. Bernard Strasser, O.S.B., 1947).The repeated and urgent “Come!” reminds me of a child’s eager and impatient waiting for Christmas Eve, but the antiphons and their symbolism and meaning are not always easy to relate to children. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, but it is quite helpful to find various ways to present the O Antiphons that touch many of the senses. (There are many creative and crafty ideas on the Internet or books.). Our family's Jesse Tree ornaments incorporate the O Antiphons for the last seven days of Advent. But no matter how I decide to present the O Antiphons, my main intention is to unite our family’s prayers with the universal Church and her Liturgy.
The antiphons can be found in the Vespers, and also the Alleluia verse at Mass. The "O" Antiphons are the verses for the ancient hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The first letter of the Messianic titles: Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia -- all spell out Latin words ERO CRAS, meaning, "Tomorrow, I will come." (The translations below are the traditional antiphons; they do not match exactly with the current Divine Office or Alleluia verse.)
Keeping this in mind, we are adding to our prayers the Antiphon, Magnificat, and singing the corresponding verse of the O Come Emmanuel. Adding elements to our meals is another aspect of incorporating the O Antiphons. One way is reviving the old custom of monasteries of different monks furnishing extra treats on these days to the members of the community. As Florence Berger describes:
The gardener gave the community some of his finest dried or preserved fruits on Dec 19 when he called on Christ: 'O Root of Jesse, come to deliver us and tarry not.' The cellarer unlocked the best wine for his treat as he called: 'O Key of David, come, and come quickly.' Finally, on Dec 23, the abbot gave his extra gift to the brothers. Expense accounts which are still extant show how generous and extensive a list of foods were used on the abbot's 'O day.'" — Cooking for Christ, 1949
One of my favorite childhood Advent memories is when my family practiced this tradition, especially when each member was involved in a surprise. We adjusted according to ages and size of our family, assigning a day to a family member, usually going from the youngest (who had help) to oldest, so that they can provide a special treat for that O Antiphon day. The surprise usually revolved around dinner, but it was never too fancy or nor always a food treat. The best part was leaving it up to the family member to keep it a secret until dinner time. An alternative or additional idea I’ve incorporated over the last years is to serve foods that remind the family of the symbols of the O Antiphons.
The ideas are plentiful, but all depend on time and energy, which can be lacking especially during this busy time of year. My aim for our domestic church is keep things simple, and for the O Antiphons the basic plan is making sure we incorporate the antiphons in prayer and song. The crafts and foods are helpful, but I will not allow it to create stress upon myself if I can’t include them.
Last year I compiled an O Antiphons Prayer Companion to keep all the antiphons, symbols, and prayers together for each day. The main one includes an image of art for each day. This is a large, color file. I keep this displayed in a flip-chart easel placed near our dining room table.
Update 2012: I've added this prayer print-out now that my children are older. There are choices for your home use. I've included on one page the Magnificat and the actual O Antiphon verses, the second page is the Magnificat and verses for O come Emmanuel. The following two pages are the verses of O Come Emmanuel presented in two ways. Choose what works for your printouts, two-sided or one-sided, one page or two.
Michele Quigley also made a beautiful page of the O Antiphons for prayer time.