The O Antiphons constitute one of the oldest of Christian prayers. Referred to most commonly as the “O” Antiphons, it is also known as the “Greater” Antiphons, and “The Seven O’s.” Each one begins with letter “O” followed by name being invoked: Sapientia, Adonia, Radix, Jesse, Clavis David, Oriens, Rex Gentium, Emmanuel.
If read in reverse order, “The Seven O” prayers mean “Ero Cras” or “Tomorrow I will come” (actually, “Tomorrow I will be”). By the way, this kind of word-play is not really liturgical, so most likely it’s a bored medieval monk who came up with the significance of the backwards acrostic. But it is fun to showcase this.
Here is the summary form of “The Seven O” Prayers:
Dec. 17: O Sapientia (I)
Dec. 18: O Adonai (II) plus O Virgo virginum (O Blessed Virgin Mary)
Dec. 19: O Radix Jesse (III)
Dec. 20: O Clavis David (IV), plus O Gabriel!
Dec. 21: O Oriens (V)
Dec. 22: O Rex Gentium (VI), plus O Rex pacifice
Dec. 23: O Emmanuel (VII), plus O Hierusalem!
Dec. 24: Christmas Eve – The Vigil Of Christmas
These seven antiphons were recited as a part of the evening Vespers prayers of the pre-Reformation church before and after The Magnificat in the Octave before Christmas, December 17 to 23 (the Vespers for Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, are those for the Christmas Vigil). Prior to the Reformation, it was sung from 16 to 23 December, omitting St. Thomas’ Day (December 21). These last seven days of Advent are also known as the Greater Ferias.
Each antiphon links a prophecy of Isaiah to its fulfilment in the gospel. They survived through the centuries, even through the Protestant Reformation, though the dates on which they were sung changed and became more flexible. While they can be used on the exact days for which they were designed, they also can become an entire Advent service, or scattered throughout Advent in meaningful and intentional ways.
These antiphons became carols, the oldest of which is the one that brings the seven together into one song: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The tune to which we now sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” began as a funeral litany.
Each of the seven stanzas addressed the Messiah by one of his titles, each one praising the coming of the Savior by a different name, and closing with petitions appropriate to the title. Thus:
Address and Praise:
O EMMANUEL, God with us, Our King and Lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior:
COME to save us, O Lord our God. Amen.
One verse was sung or chanted each evening (as opposed to being sung together as a single hymn, as we do today).
According to one source, on December 17th the Abbot would intone the first Antiphon, O Sapientia. On successive nights, each principal officer of the monastery would take his turn with another of the Antiphons. After the service, the officer was expected to provide some sort of treat, usually edible, for all the monks.
December 17: “O Sapientia…” (O Wisdom)
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O eternal Wisdom, which proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end of creation unto the other, mightily and harmoniously disposing all things: come Thou to teach us the way of understanding.
Alternate Prose Translation: O WISDOM, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: COME, and teach us the way of prudence.
Veni, O Sapientia,
Quae hic disponis omnia,
Veni, viam prudentiae
Ut doceas et gloriae.
O come, O Wisdom from on high,
Who madest all in earth and sky,
Creating man from dust and clay:
To us reveal Salvation’s way.
Isaiah 11:2-3: “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.”
Isaiah 28:29: “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.”
See: Ecclus. 24:5; Wisd. 8:1; Isa. 40:14. See also Proverbs 1:20; 8; 9 and I Corinthians 1:30.
December 18: “O Adonai…” (O Lord and Ruler of the House of Israel)
O Adonai, et dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Lord, and Ruler of the House of Israel, who appearedst unto Moses in the flame of a burning bush, and gavest to him the Law in Sinai: Come to redeem us with a stretched out arm.
Alternate Prose Translation: O LORD AND RULER of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: COME, and redeem us with outstretched arms.
Veni, Veni, Adonai,
Qui populo in Sinai
Legem dedisti vertice
In maiestate gloriae.
O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.
Isaiah 11:4-5: “But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.”
Isaiah 33:22: “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us.”
See also Exodus 3; Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6.
December 19: “O Radix Jesse…” (O Root of Jesse)
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur; veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardere.
O Root of Jesse, who art placed for a sign of the people, before whom kings shall shut their mouths, whom the Gentiles shall supplicate: come Thou to deliver us, do not tarry.
Alternate Prose Translation: O ROOT OF JESSE, which stands for an ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: COME, to deliver us, and tarry not.
Veni, O Jesse Virgula,
Ex hostis tuos ungula,
De spectu tuos tartari
Educ et antro barathri..
O come, O Rod of Jesse free,
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave
Isaiah 11:1: “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”
Isaiah 11:10: “On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.”
Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:1).
See: Isa. 52:15; Heb. 10:37. See also Romans 15:12; Revelation 5:5.
December 20: “O Clavis David…” (O Key of 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 Sceptre of the house of Israel, who openest and none shutteth, who shuttest and none openeth: come Thou, and bring forth the captive from the house of bondage, who sitteth in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Alternate Prose Translation: O KEY OF DAVID, and Sceptre of the House of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: COME, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Veni, Clavis Davidica,
regna reclude caelica,
fac iter tutum superum,
et claude vias inferum.
O come, thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Isaiah 22:22: “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.”
Isaiah 9:6:”His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.”
See: Rev. 3:7; Gen. 49:10; Isa. 42: 7. See also Revelation 3:7.
December 21: “O Oriens…” (O Dawn of the East (Dayspring))
O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentis in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Rising Brightness of the Everlasting Light and Sun of Righteousness: come Thou and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Alternate Prose Translation: O DAWN OF THE EAST, brightness of light eternal, and Sun of Justice: COME, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Veni, Veni O Oriens,
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque mortis tenebras.
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
And drive away the shades of night,
And pierce the clouds, and bring us light!
Isaiah 9:1: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.”
See also Luke 1:78-79; Malachi 4:2.
December 22: “O Rex…” (O King of the Gentiles (Nations))
O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unem: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O King and the Desire of all nations, and chief Corner-stone, who makest two to be one: come Thou and save man whom Thou formedst from the clay.
Alternate Prose Translation: O KING OF THE GENTILES and their desired One, the Cornerstone that makes both one: COME, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.
Veni, Veni, Rex Gentium,
Veni, Redemptor omnium,
Ut salvas tuos famulos
Peccati sibi conscios..
O come, Desire of nations, show
Thy Kingly rein on earth below;
Thou Corner-stone, uniting all,
Restore the ruin of our fall.
Isaiah 9:5: “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 2:4: “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”
See Jeremiah 10:7; Hag. 2:7; Eph. 2:14; Gen. 2:7; Tob. 8:8. See also Revelation 15:3; Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; I Peter 2:6.
December 23: “O Emmanuel…” (God With Us)
O Emmanuel, Rex et legisfer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator erum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the gatherer of the people and their Saviour: come Thou to save us, O Lord our God.
Alternate Prose Translation: O EMMANUEL, God with us, Our King and Lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Saviour: COME to save us, O Lord our God.
Veni, Veni, Emmanuel
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exsilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.
O come, o come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
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.”
See: Isa. 33:22; Gen. 49:10; Isa. 37:10. See also Isaiah 8:8; Matthew 1:23; Haggai 2:7.
“Emmanuel” means “God is with us.”