The Christmas pressure is on. Just one week to go and it’s panic stations everywhere. And yet it will be all over in a flash. By St Stephen’s Day we’ll all be wondering what the fuss was about. Yet, fuss there is, human nature being what it is.
In the Christian tradition, today, December 17, is the start of the O Antiphons. One is assigned to each day up to December 23. (Christmas Eve, December 24, heralds the start of the Christmas season.) It is an opportunity to take a quiet moment amidst all the fuss and focus on what Christmas is really about. An Antiphon is a short prayer that assists us to focus on a particular theme.
They are traditional (in use since the eighth century) Advent hymns, called the O Antiphons because the first word of each hymn is ‘O’. They are used in Christian denominations worldwide. Catholics use the antiphons in the Breviary (Prayer of the Church) or Divine Office as the introductory prayers to the Magnificat in Evening Prayer (Vespers). The O Antiphons are also used as the Gospel Acclamations at Mass from today.
All clergy and professed religious pray the Divine Office daily – Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Prayer During the Day, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer. Many ‘lay people’ (there must be a better term!) also pray the Office as part of the universal prayer of the church.
The Antiphons are based on scripture writings from the prophet Isaiah in the Hebrew (Old Testament) Bible and herald the coming of the Messiah. They all cite various titles afforded to the Messiah, and all anticipate the one who is to come.
December 17 is O Wisdom (Sapientia): O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge! “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness…” Is 11:2–3.
December 18 is O Lord of Israel (Adonai): O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: come to rescue us with your mighty power! “But he shall judge the poor with justice, and shall reprove with equity the meek of the earth…” Is 11:4–5; 33:22.
December 19 is O Root of Jesse (Radix Jesse): O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay! “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root…” Is 11:1, 10.
December 20 is O Key of David (Clavis David): O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness! “And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open.” Is 22:22.
December 21 is O Radiant Dawn (Oriens): O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death. “The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen.” Is 9:10.
December 22 is O King of the Nations (Rex Gentium): O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save man, whom you formed from the dust! “And he shall judge the Gentiles, and rebuke many people: and they shall turn their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they be exercised any more to war…” Is 2:4, 9:7.
December 23 is O God With Us (Emmanuel): O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God! “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” Is 7:14.
Afford yourself a minute a day. Nollaig Shona.