The Advent Antiphons

We sing these antiphons, or refrains, all beginning ‘O …’,  before the Gospel at Mass and before and after the Magnificat at Vespers (Evening Prayer), on the seven days preceding Christmas Eve (17–23 December).

The text of each is given below with their biblical  reference points beneath.

They are addressed to God, calling for him to come as teacher and deliverer, with a tapestry of scriptural titles and pictures that describe his saving work in Christ. In the medieval rite of Salisbury Cathedral that was widely followed in England before the Reformation, the antiphons began on 16 December and there was an additional antiphon (O Virgo Virginum – ‘O Virgin of virgins’) on 23 December; this is reflected in the Calendar of The Book of Common Prayer, where 16 December is designated O Sapientia (O Wisdom).The Contemporary Church Calendar has adopted the more widely used form. It is not known when and by whom the antiphons were composed, but they were already in use by the eighth century.

17 December – O Sapientia
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

(cf Ecclesiasticus 24.3;Wisdom 8.1)

18 December – O Adonai
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm. (cf Exodus 3.2; 24.12)

19 December – O Radix Jesse
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

(cf Isaiah 11.10; 45.14; 52.15; Romans 15.12)

20 December – O Clavis David
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

(cf Isaiah 22.22; 42.7)

21 December – O Oriens
O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.

(cf Malachi 4.2)

22 December – O Rex Gentium
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

(cf Isaiah 28.16; Ephesians 2.14)

23 December – O Emmanuel
O Emmanuel, our King and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

(cf Isaiah 7.14)