First Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14 Second Reading: Romans 1:1-7
Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24
Each night for the octave before Christmas which begins tonight, we ask Christ to come, calling him by a different title in the Magnificat Antiphon, familiarly called the O Antiphons”. These antiphons were developed during the Church’s first centuries, soon used widely in monasteries and by the 8th century they were in use in both the monastic and the Roman breviary (Divine Office). They were originally in Latin and traditionally chanted. The O Antiphons are also used with the Alleluia for the Gospel Verse at Mass. The last one is sung at the Evening Office on December 23rd – there isn’t one for the evening service for Dec 24th because that is already the vigil of Christmas, so we are no longer waiting.
An interesting note that is not apparent in English, but it can be seen clearly in the Latin. Sometimes you see the phrase ERO CRAS on banners or cards listing the O Antiphons in Latin because if we take the first letter of each Latin title for Christ and write them in backwards order, we get “ERO CRAS, a Latin phrase that means “Tomorrow, I will Come.” Before tomorrow does come, Let’s take a stroll along the path of the O Antiphons …
O Wisdom! Sirach (24:3) says: “From the mouth of the Most High I came forth, and like mist covered the earth”. Wisdom “reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things well”. Wisdom is the foundation of fear of the Lord, of holiness, or right living: it is wisdom whom we bid to come to teach us prudence.
O Adonai and Ruler of the House of Israel! In Exodus (6:6) we read: “I will rescue you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment”. With this second antiphon we progress from creation to the familiar story of God manifesting himself by name to Moses and giving his law to Israel as their way of life.
O Root of Jesse! Isaiah (52:13-15) prophesied the restoration of David’s throne – a new branch budding out of the old root. Christ is the root of Jesse in a two-fold sense: he is the descendant of David, who was the youngest son of Jesse, and he inherited the royal throne. The angel foretold to Mary, “The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.”
Key of David Isaiah (22:22) makes a prophecy: “I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder. When he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open.” The key and scepter are traditional symbols of kingly power and authority. Jesus shared his authority when He entrusted the power to “bind and to loose” to Peter and the ministers of his church. We look to Jesus to unlock the fetters of our shadow selves that keep us so tightly chained to bad habits and the stumbling blocks that impede our spiritual maturity.
O Rising Dawn! Peter’s epistle echoes the sentiment of the prophet Malachi (2 Peter 1:19): “Keep your attention closely fixed on it, as you would on a lamp shining in a dark place, until the first streaks of dawn appear and the morning star rises in your heart”. This title is variously translated “morning star”, “Dayspring”, “rising sun”, “radiant dawn”, “orient”. All beautifully express the idea of light with its brightness bringing healing and warmth to cold hearts. We pray this petition daily in the Benedictus: “the morning sun will rise upon us … guiding us in ways of peace.”
O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all nations! Thus says the prophet Isaiah: “Therefore, says the Lord God: See, I am laying a stone in Zion, a stone that has been tested, a precious cornerstone as a sure foundation”. This sixth antiphon, in the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah, (Isaiah 28:16 and Jerimiah 10:7) clearly addresses the savior as the king of the gentiles and the Desired One of the nations, the cornerstone on whom our spiritual foundations are laid. We call on Christ to once again breathe new life into us.
O Emmanuel! In this the seventh antiphon, we are reassured by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14): “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel”. With this last antiphon our expectation finds joy in the certainty of fulfillment. We call Jesus by one of the most personal and intimate of his titles, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Our Advent Scripture readings have been stressing the truth that Christ is the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Our repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all of us for the One who is to come in many ways – He came historically at Bethlehem in the fullness of time. He comes to us sacramentally. He will come again at the end of time. Christ comes to us also in the two-fold consecration of the Body and Blood of Christ and to us in Communion. He comes in the words of Sacred Scripture and in the person of our confreres, our family and neighbors. Christ comes in a special way through our corporate commitment actions – through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
In this final week of Advent we fix our attention on the messianic promises proclaimed by the ancient prophets. The O Antiphons add a mood of eager expectation to the liturgy that builds throughout these seven days and climaxes at Christmas midnight Mass when the church sings: “I proclaim to you good news of great joy: today a Savior is born for us.”