Did you know that there is an octave before Christmas Eve? Called the Golden Nights of Advent, the octave is a final burst of preparation for Christmas.
The octave, which begins on December 17, dates back to the fourth century. What makes these nights so special is what happens during Vespers (or Evening Prayer) of the Divine Office. During the octave, there are seven Magnificat antiphons called the “O Antiphons”. Each antiphon invokes Our Lord using an Old Testament title. In a way, it’s slowly unpacking the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation by allowing us to look at what led up to it.
Note: The Latin and translations for the O Antiphons listed below comes from Fisheaters.
Latin: O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.
English: O Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence!
Our Lord is often referred to as Wisdom in the Sacred Scriptures. Wisdom isn’t being knowledgeable for the sake of knowledge but to know the will of God and obey it. That true wisdom holds all the world into being and orders the cosmos. Our Lord, who followed His Father’s will from manger to the Cross, is the embodiment of that Wisdom.
Relevant Scriptures: Isaiah 11:2-3; 28:29; 40:14; Sirach 24:3; Wisdom 8:1
O Lord or Ruler
Latin: O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
English: O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm!
Here we remember the call of Moses and recall the Exodus. God re-imposes His Will onto the world through the burning bush. We are given foreshadowing of the sacraments through the Passover and the Israelites fleeing Egypt. The burning bush, explicitly mentioned here, prefigures Mary, whose womb carried the Incarnation of God. While this isn’t the start of Salvation History, these are important notes to ponder as we draw closer to Christmas.
Relevant Scriptures: Exodus 3:2, 14; 20; Matt 2:6; Micah 5:1; 2 Sam 5:2; Jer. 32:21
O Root of Jesse
Latin: O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
English: O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliver us, do not tarry.
Root of Jesse is a title that means the Messiah will comes from Jesse’s (and, therefore, David’s) lineage. It’s a reminder of Christ’s Kingship, which is bound up on Earth as much as it is in Heaven. This title reminds us that we owe Christ our fealty in all that we do and that neither governments or other kings outrank Our Lord.
Relevant Scriptures: Isaiah 11:1, 10; Micah 5:1; Romans 15:8-13; Revelation 5:1-5
O Key of David
Latin: 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.
English: O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
The term “Key of David” refers to an event in the Bible, recounted in Isaiah. Shebna, Master of the Palace, was removed from his position and replaced by Eliakim. While doing so, God grants to Eliakim the “Key of David”. Other Scriptures refer back to that phrase. Keys are symbols of authority. To call Christ the Key of David is to refer to His Kingly Authority.
Relevant Scriptures: Isaiah 9:6, 22:19-25; Revelation 3:7; Ps. 107:10
O DayspringLatin: O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
English: Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Sun of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!
Sin and death, in Scripture, are often spoke of in terms of darkness, whereas Christ and salvation are spoken of in terms of light and life. Jesus calls Himself the Light of World in the Gospels. Christmas and Advent are full of the use of candles, on trees, wreaths, and in windows, because Christ’s birth brought light into a dark world.
Relevant Scriptures: Isaiah 9:2; Malachi 4:1-3; Jer 23:5; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12
O King of the Gentiles
Latin: O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
English: O King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Corner-stone, that makest of two one, come to save man, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!
Here we return to the theme of Christ as King. However, in previous Antiphons, Christ is referred to as a King in Jewish terms (Key of David, Root of Jesse). In this Antiphon, we are reminded that while Jesus first came for the children of Israel, He is meant for everyone. Ours is not a personal religion to be kept solely to ourselves but, like a lamp on a stand, it’s meant to shed light onto the whole world. Jesus isn’t only the King of the Jews but the King of the World.
Relevant Scriptures: Isaiah 2:4, 9:7; Jeremiah 10:7; Haggai 2:7
Latin: O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
English: O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!
This is the most familiar of all of Christ’s titles. After all, a beloved Advent/Christmas song is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. The name “Emmanuel” means “God With Us”. It’s a name that embodies the longing of Advent, of how we long to have Christ with us. Catholicism is a religion of now and not yet. He is with us now in the Eucharist and when we pray but we also must await His return in either the Second Coming or when we die (whichever comes first). Advent and Christmas are beautiful symbols of this. We celebrate the fact that He has come, is here now, and will come again.
Relevant Scriptures: Isaiah 7:14, 8:8, 33:22; Luke 1:31-33