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O My, O Antiphons!

(A version of this post was originally published on our blog archives at

If you’re friends with The Newman Center on Facebook (and really, why wouldn't you be?), you saw an announcement this morning that we'd be posting the O Antiphons for the next several days. Never heard of them, you say? Do read on!

First of all, what on earth is an “antiphon”?

It’s a chanted, spoken, or sung response during a religious service or musical work. Think about the Litany of the Saints, the whole “Holy Mary…pray for us. Holy Mother of God…pray for us. Holy Virgin of virgins…pray for us…” back-and-forth. That’s an antiphon. See! You’ve been doing it all along and you never even knew what it was called!

Sneaky! So what’s an “O” antiphon?

The antiphons that all start with “O” in the eight days leading up to Christmas.

Wait, that sounds uncomplicated.

Yes, it does.

That title is kind of obvious. “O”…

Yes, it is.

So what are these obviously-named “O” Antiphons for?

The “O” antiphons are like fun-sized candy bars–they’re little snacks of prayer that help us prepare during the final days of Advent, before the grand celebration (the king-sized candy bar, if you will) of Christmas. It gets tough waiting, right? These help us get through the waiting and re-center on the true excitement of Christmas: Christ’s coming. They also remind us of what the people of Israel felt while they were waiting for millenia for their Messiah.

Okay, preparation. Got it. So when do I say them?

At evening prayer, called Vespers. If you don’t do the Liturgy of the Hours, say them while you bless your evening meal or before bed.

And what exactly do they say?

Each antiphon gives a different title for the Messiah–Wisdom, Lord, Rising Sun, Key of David, etc.–and a prophecy about him from the book of Isaiah, asking the Messiah to come and save His people. They grow more and more urgent the closer they get to Christmas, asking the Messiah to get here now! Save us! Please!

Also, the first letters of each of the titles for Messiah in Latin (which is what the “O” Antiphons were originally written in) come together backwards to spell out “Ero Cras”, which in Latin means “Tomorrow, I will come”: Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia.

See? Cool, huh?

That is extremely cool.

I know, right?!?!

Keep an eye on your News Feed each evening for that night’s O antiphon, and join us in preparing for the coming of the Messiah!

Peace to you in these final days of Advent.

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