The O Antiphons are seven short verses sung during Evening Prayer (also known as Vespers) on the seven days before the vigil of Christmas. Chanted December 17-23, they recall titles of Jesus, the Messiah, that have echoed from seashores to mountain tops and from synagogues to chapels since Old Testament times. Each begins with the exclamation "O" and nestled within them, is a longing for the coming of Christ in glory. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes more urgent.
The antiphons were composed sometime between the 6th and 8th centuries when monks compiled texts from the Old Testament which looked forward to our salvation. They form a rich mosaic of scriptural images and became very popular in the Middle Ages.
Fun Fact: the first letter of each forms an acrostic in reverse. Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, and Emmanuel, provide the Latin words: ERO CRAS. Referring to Christmas Eve, this phrase translates, “I am coming tomorrow.” So, as the Messiah calls to us, may the following resources help us to ready ourselves for whenever tomorrow comes.
Why not join with the Prayer of the universal Church each evening and reflect on these words preparing for Christmas day by day!
Greccio & the O Antiphons
To access meditation in other languages, visit: franciscanvoice.org/resources
For centuries, friars in Greccio, Italy, have gathered their habits tight against the cold of December and scurried into the cave-like chapel for evening prayer. In the flickering of candlelight, encouraged by Brother Draft, a single voice would rise in pitch and confidence as if scaling the mountain itself.
So, the O Antiphons would have been chanted and followed by a chorus of friars singing the Magnificat from the Gospel of Luke, Mary’s song of praise in response to the message of the Angel Gabriel.
Francis of Assisi is credited with popularizing the nativity scene with a live re-enactment at Greccio 800 years ago. In his 2019 Apostolic Letter Admirabile signum, Pope Francis reflects on Greccio in 1223, while considering the meaning and importance of the nativity scene. Channeling the spirit of Saint Francis, the Pope reminds us, “The nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture. As we contemplate the Christmas story, we are invited to set out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became human in order to encounter every man and woman. We come to realize that so great is his love for us that he became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with him.”
This resource is designed to help us make this spiritual journey of Advent and Christmas by bringing together both the inspiration of Greccio and the O Antiphons. In turn, these can help to assist us in our coming to a deeper consideration of how better to live the social teaching of the Church in our world today. In short, it is Franciscan “prayer in action” that strengthens our relationship with God and others, through moments of silence, movement, song, and reflection.
The prayer presented in this resource, can be adapted for any context: from the kitchen of the overextended single-parent family to the chapel of a religious community. The setting up of the nativity scene can be done, for example, on the traditional “O Antiphon” days of 17-23 December, or it can also be done on any seven moments during the Advent season. Let the Spirit lead you...