Christmas Antiphons

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

-Antiphon for Mary’s Canticle, Evening Prayer, December.

May the Lord give you peace! As we journey through this season of Advent, the gift of peace is more precious than ever. With so much bad news surrounding us these days I think that it is important for us to also look to the good news of this glorious season, when we celebrate the wonder of our Lord and Savior being born to a poor couple in the most vulnerable of circumstances.

For nearly 1300 years the Church anticipates the great feast of Christmas with a series of special antiphons, “the O Antiphons,” that are prayed before and after Mary’s Canticle during Evening Prayer. Beginning December 17th and concluding on the 23rd, these antiphons remind us not only of the seven messianic titles of Christ, but of our own need for conversion. We invite you to pray the following prayers daily with us:

December 17th–O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to Salvation.

December 18th–O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

December 19th–O flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples. Kings stand silent in your presence and the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

December 20th–O key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and lead your captive people to freedom.

December 21st–O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

December 22nd–O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of the human race, come and save the creature you fashioned from dust.

December 23rd–O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

Each antiphon begins with one of the messianic titles of Christ found in the Old Testament and concludes with a plea to the Almighty to save us or to set us free. If these messianic titles sound familiar to you, they are contained in the full version of the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

These short antiphons turn our gaze from the mundane and less-than-spiritual activities of the

Advent-Christmas season to the glory and wonder of the Word made flesh. Each of these antiphons implores the Almighty to set us free, to save us or to shine on us.

A question then arises, “From what do I need to be set free?” “From what do I need to be saved?” “Where do I need the light of God’s love to illumine the darkness of my heart?” (to paraphrase St. Francis.) Perhaps I need to be freed from the resentments and hurts that I have held onto? Perhaps I need to be saved from compulsive habits that center on myself at the expense of others? Perhaps I need to shine a light upon a blind spot in my head or heart? Perhaps, I need to remind myself that I am “fearfully, wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14)

A Sister of Notre Dame once described to me how she was in Sarajevo during the worst of the Balkan war of the 1990s. Surrounded by artillery shelling and snipers, she and a small community of Catholics were huddled in the basement of a building to celebrate Midnight Mass by candlelight. We could hear the shelling, the sniper’s bullets and all the chaos that war brings, and then the celebrant began the proclamation of the Gospel by saying, “A proclamation of the Good News according to Luke.” GOOD NEWS! In the midst of all this misery we were reminded that there was GOOD NEWS to celebrate and proclaim.

Thanks for your generous support of our friars and their ministries as we seek to proclaim that GOOD NEWS in the midst of so much despair, hopelessness and apathy. We have enclosed a gift to you, a prayer card that includes the O Antiphons. We invite you to pray and reflect on them daily and know that we are praying with you too. May you and your loved ones experience the peace and the joy of this wondrous season.

Gratefully,

Fr. John Elmer, OFM Conv.

PS If you would like to continue helping the friars in their efforts to bring the Good News to light, please use the donation form on this page!

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