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Dec 13, 2018

The O Antiphons Explained: A Daily Series Leading to Christmas

Thomas Smith

The Church has invoked the titles of Christ in the O Antiphons for at least 1,300 years. These seven ancient prayers have been prayed by over millions of Christians. The medieval monasteries used to ring their largest bell as the choirs of monks intoned Mary’s Magnificat and these Advent antiphons. They are invoking Christ in seven messianic titles.

They are seven heart cries for Jesus to come anew in our life. Each one of them is preparing us to invite the Christ child more completely in this blessed season. 

Like a final crescendo, these O Antiphons are intoned during Evening Prayer on the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve. Each night they form luminous bookends around Our Lady’s Magnificat, like seven prayers she prayed during her week-long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. All seven are in the oracles of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who gives us many memorable images of the Messiah. They are rich meditations on the One who is to come.

Although there are seven titles in the O Antiphons, only one has remained firmly in popular Christian culture, thanks to an Advent hymn: O Come, O Come Emmanuel. This messianic title is the final of the seven O Antiphons. To help us pray and even SING these beautiful prayers, I use a translation that matches that familiar Advent melody. The other titles are O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Light, and O King of the Nations.

Join Us on This Spiritual Pilgrimage

Join us as we prepare for Christ’s coming and kingship by meditating on his names. Each day from December 16 through December 23, we will post a reflection on one of the seven O Antiphons. We will do a kind of lexio divina on each one: reading, reflecting, responding, and resting in these beautiful prayers. 

Invite your friends and family. On December 16 through December 23, we will accompany the Holy Family on that ancient pilgrimage of light, hearing, praying, and meditating the O Antiphons like mile markers along the journey to Bethlehem. 

We are so excited to join you on this Advent journey. 

This post was published on The Great Adventure Blog in December 2016 and modified on December 13, 2018.

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What If We Made Our Advent Penitential?

Rejoice: Advent Meditations with Mary

Are Christmas Card Worries Interrupting Your Advent?

About Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is the co-author of Wisdom: God’s Vision for Life,  Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come and The Prophets: Messengers of God’s Mercy. He is an international presenter for The Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Bringing a wealth of experience and insight on the Word of God to audiences across the U.S., Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker. Thomas Smith has taught as an adjunct professor at the St. Francis School of Theology in Denver, and is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School. He lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho and writes for his website

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