In Thomas Merton’s Seasons of Celebration, he writes in his essay entitled “Advent: Hope or Delusion?” that “St. Gregory the Great said that all Christians should continue the prophetic mission of John (the Baptist) and point out the presence of Christ in the world.” Merton continues, “This may mean many different things. John was able to point out Christ at the Jordan, in a moment of fulfillment, which gave meaning to his whole life. But John also had to witness to Christ in prison, in the face of death, in failure, when even the meaning of his other glorious moment seemed to have been cancelled out.”
Merton goes on to say, “our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that his plan has been neither frustrated nor changed: indeed, all will be done according to his will. Our Advent season is the celebration of this hope. What is uncertain is not the ‘coming’ of Christ but our own reception of him, our own readiness and capacity to ‘go forth to meet him.’ We must be willing to see Him and acclaim Him, as John did, even at the very moment when our whole life’s work and meaning seem to collapse.”
During the last week of Advent, in the octave before Christmas, the Church experiences a quickening of Hope, a strengthening of Faith, and the power of Love to transform us. A special set of prayers, acclamations called the “O Antiphons” are used at this time. These seven antiphons are recited (or chanted) preceding and following the Magnificat during Evening Prayer.
The usage of the “O Antiphons” has been part of the liturgical tradition since the very early Church. The exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known. Boethius (c. 480-524) made a reference to them, which suggests their presence at that time. By the eighth century, they were in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome.
The importance of the “O Antiphons” is twofold: each one highlights a title for the Messiah, a way we might know Christ; and each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Messiah. The antiphons confess the faith of the community by acknowledging the identity of the one they address.
The invocation – O, Come!—professes the Church’s hope that, since Our Lord has always revealed himself as the one who is to come, we therefore will be ready to say with the spirit and the Bride, come Lord Jesus. These prayers unite our hearts with the heart of God, the one who is coming, our redeemer. The antiphons can be found as hymn 56 in in our hymnbook.
O Sapientia: O Wisdom (December 17)
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom.
O Adonai: O Lord (December 18)
For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us.
O Radix Jesse: O Root of Jesse (December 19)
Isaiah 11:1, 10
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
O Clavis David: O Key of David (December 20)
Isaiah 22:22, 9:6
I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.
O Oriens: O Rising Sun (December 21)
Isaiah 9:1, 5
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.
O Rex Gentium: O King of the Nations (December 22)
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;|
they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
O Emmanuel: O God with us (December 23)
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the Virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel (God with us).