Christmas preparations are well underway in our culture long before the liturgical season of Advent begins, but some of the best aids for truly getting ready are unfamiliar to most people. This is because the commercial campaign leaps from Thanksgiving to Christmas right over Advent without noticing it. And if we are mesmerized by the glittering ads and sleigh bell music we might not notice it either.
One beautiful feature of Advent that may unfortunately be missed is the septet of O Antiphons in the Liturgy of the Hours beginning on December 17 and leading up to Christmas Eve. Antiphons are meditative titles given to psalms or canticles and often arranged for singing in the Divine Office. The O antiphons introduce the singing of Mary’s Canticle, the Magnificat (My soul magnifies the Lord) at Vespers (Evening Prayer) during these seven days.
Each antiphon begins with a biblical title applied to Jesus, then has a brief reflection on the title and ends with a petition. The first, for example, is “O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High and reached from beginning to end. You ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come and teach us the way of wisdom.” After that come O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Morning Star, O King of the Nations, and O Emmanuel. Each evening the distinctive music brings us back into focus on the one who is coming.
Each evening during the days leading up to Christmas, the O Antiphons heighten our expectancy by shining the light of Scripture on the One who is to come. By their arrangement, these antiphons remind us that in celebrating the first coming of Christ we are preparing for his other comings, in our own hearts now and on the clouds of heaven at the end of time. The Latin titles form an acrostic in reverse order spelling out the message “I am coming soon.”