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The Great Antiphons of Advent

The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal

The seven Great Antiphons, or O Antiphons, as they are called, are said, one each day, at the Magnificat in Vespers, from December the 17th to the 23rd, inclusive. Although not written in meter, they are strikingly poetical in thought, and replete with Scriptural allusions. Each Antiphon salutes the coming Messias under one of His many Scriptural titles, and closes with a proper petition. The authorship and date of composition are unknown. They are, however, at least as old as the ninth century, and probably much older. There are several translations in both prose and verse. Mr. Shipley’s Annus Sanctus contains a metrical version by H. N. Oxenham. Read the articles on the O Antiphons, and on Advent, in the Cath. Encycl.

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ. O Wisdom, that proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end mightily, and sweetly disposing all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Sapientia: Ego (Sapientia) ex ore Altissimi prodivi (Ecclus. 24, 5). Attingens: Attingit ergo a fine usque ad finem fortiter, et disponit omnia suaviter (Wis. 8, 1).

O Adonai

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento. O Adonai, and Leader of the House of Israel, who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest Him the Law on Sinai: come and redeem us by Thy outstretched arm.

Adonai: This is the Hebrew substitute for the ineffable name of Jehovah. It is rendered in the Vulgate by “Dominus,” and in the Douay Bible by “Lord.” It is retained in both texts twice, viz., in Exodus 6, 3, and in Judith 16, 16. Read the foot-note on Exodus 6, 3, in the Douay Bible. See also the articles on Adonai, and Jehovah, in the Cath. Encycl. Domus Israel: The House of Israel, i.e., the Israelites, the Jews, the chosen people of God. The expression occurs very often in the Old Testament, and a few times in the New. Read the article on Jacob, and the beginning of the article on Israelite, in the Cath. Encycl. Flammæ rubi: Apparuitque ei (Moysi) Dominus in flamma ignis de medio rubi (Exod. 3, 2). In Sina legem dedisti: Cf. Exod., beginning with chapter 19.

O Radix

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare. O Root of Jesse, who standest as the ensign of the people, before whom kings shall not open their lips; to whom the Gentiles shall pray: come and deliver us, tarry now no more.

Radix Jesse: In die illa, radix Jesse, qui stat in signum populorum, ipsum gentes deprecabuntur (Is. 11, 10). “Root of Jesse,” i.e., a descendant from Jesse, the father of David (Rom. 15, 12). Our Lord, as the Son of the Virgin Mary, was of the House of David, hence a root of Jesse. Signum poopulorum: An allusion to the ensign of the Cross, around which the nations would rally. Super quem: super ipsum continebunt reges os suum (Is. 52, 15).

O Clavis David

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis. O Key of David, and Scepter of the House of Israel; who openest, and no man shutteth; who shuttest, and no man openeth: come and lead the captive from the prison-house, and him that sitteth in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Clavis David: Hæc dicit Sanctus et Verus, qui habet clavem David: qui aperit, et nemo claudit: claudit, et nemo aperit (Apoc. 3, 7). Cf. also Is. 22, 22. Et sceptrum: Et Israel sceptrum hereditatis ejus (Jer. 51, 19). Et educ: et educeres de conclusione vinctum, de domo carceris sedentes in tenebris (Is. 42, 7).

O Oriens

O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis. O Orient, Splendor of the Eternal Light, and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Oriens: Variously rendered, dayspring, sunrise, dawn, east. It is one of the many Scriptural titles of the Messias, who was to be the Light of the world (John 8, 12), the Sun of Justice (Mal. 4, 2), the Orient from on high who visited us (Luke 1, 78), and who from eternity has been the Splendor of the Father’s glory (Heb. 1, 3). Splendor: Candor est enim lucis æternæ (Wis. 7, 26). Illumina: Illuminare his, qui in tenebris, et in umbra mortis sedent (Luke 1, 79).

O Rex Gentium

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti. O King of the Gentiles, yea, and the desire thereof, the Corner-stone that makest both one: come and save man, who Thou hast made out of the slime of the earth.

Rex Gentium: Erit radix Jesse, et qui exurget regere gentes, in eum gentes sperabunt (Rom. 15, 12; Is. 11, 10). Desideratus: et veniet desideratus cunctis gentibus (Agg. 2, 8). Lapis angularis: Christ is the Corner-stone (Eph. 2, 20). He is also our peacemaker who maketh both one (Eph. 2, 14). The Jews and Gentiles are the two who are made one. Christ died for all, and He founded a Church to save all men without distinction of race. De limo: Formavit igitur Dominus Deus hominem de limo terræ (Gen. 2, 7).

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster. O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, the expectation of all nations and their Saviour: come and save us, O Lord our God.

Emmanuel: Cf. Matt. 1, 23. Exspectatio gentium: et ipse erit exspectatio gentium (Gen. 49, 10). Read the article on Emmanuel, in the Cath. Encycl.

The following beautiful paraphrase of five of the above Antiphons is found in a hymn which dates from the beginning of the eighteenth century. The translation is by J. M. Neale.