The O Antiphons for Advent

O Wisdom which camest out of the mouth of the most high, reaching from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things;
come and shew us the way of understanding.

O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, who didst appear to Moses in a flame of fire in the bush and gavest him the Law in Sinai;
come and redeem us with thine outstretched arms.

O Root of Jesse who standest as the ensign of the people, before whom kings shall not open their lips, to whom the nations shall pray;
come and deliver us, tarry now no more.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel, thou that openest and no man shutteth, who shutteth and no man openeth;
come and lead the captive from prison, sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.

O Dayspring, splendour of eternal light and sun of righteousness;
come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

O King of Nations and their desired one, thou corner-stone who makest both one;
come and save man whom thou hast formed from clay.

O Emmanuel our king and lawgiver, the hope of all nations and their saviour;
come and save us, O Lord our God.

The seven "O's" or antiphons were sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers in the week before Christmas. In Latin the seven begin as follows:

  • O Sapienta...
  • O Adonai...
  • O Radix Jesse...
  • O Clavis David...
  • O Oriens...
  • O Rex gentium...
  • O Emmanuel...

The initials of the seven, read backwards as an acrostic, spell ero cras ("tomorrow I shall be there"). The practice of singing the Greater Antiphons dates from before the 9th century. The antiphons were never sung together, but one on each of the seven days leading up to Christmas.

Nigel Day

O come, O come, Emmanuel - read more about this Advent hymn.
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th November 1999