I recently asked my three young adult grandchildren to send me the titles of their favorite religious Christmas carols–so no “Santa Baby” or “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” The reason is that on Christmas Eve, we plan to have a special ritual at my house and I want to incorporate their favorite carols. I received two requests for the same hymn: “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” Here was a teaching moment! I explained that their haunting and beautiful choice is actually an Advent hymn that should technically not be sung until December 17th and then finished on December 23rd, when the whole Church prepares for the Incarnation of Jesus by singing/chanting the “O Antiphons.” I knew they were puzzled so, of course, on I went.

In case you are wondering too, an antiphon is a sung or chanted response at the beginning and end of a psalm or canticle during liturgical prayer. The “O Antiphons” contain seven names for the Messiah proclaimed in the evening prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours before and after the “Magnificat”or “Canticle of Mary.” Placing “O” before the name is a recognition of awe for these ancient appellations: Wisdom, Adonai, Flower of Jesse, Key of David, Radiant Dawn, King of All Nations, and Emmanuel.

In response to these revelations, eyes opened wide and I heard the best word in any language: “Ohhhhhhh!” To me, it sounded like the prayer of wisdom dawning. To think that several thousand years before the appearance of Jesus on the Earth, ancient people of faith were calling out these names, longing for true freedom from captivity. To think that there is something bigger going on in this universe connecting past, present, and future, brings out a sense of divine purpose beyond imagination.

Starting with the Big Bang, the first Incarnation took place, and “Wisdom walked on the land.” In the form of a burning bush, Adonai gave us the divine law of love. The prophet Jesse’s family roots would bring forth the House of David, the divine key that would unlock the doors of ignorance and could never be shut. An inextinguishable Light, called “Radiant Dawn” or “Dayspring,” would beckon all to its luminous warmth. And then, the Messiah would come, not in secular power or glory, but disguised as a helpless infant, a hidden King of All Nations, to become “Emmanuel,” God with us, the timeless cornerstone of history.

During the final fourth week of Advent, I invite you to pray the O Antiphons, beginning on December 17, along with those of us whose lives have been enriched by connecting with these ancient prayers. Here is a link: https://www.usccb.org/prayers/o-antiphons-advent.

For more Advent reflections, connect with my friend, Tessa Bielecki, who has taught me more about the O Antiphons than I ever dreamed. Here is her website: https://tessabielecki.com/

And don’t forget to sing: “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” I am humming it right now and hope you are too.

2 thoughts on “Ohhhhh!”

  1. Wonderful, Donna. Here’s a nerdy monk fact: did you know that the original Latin antiphons were written so that the first letter of each antiphon, read backwards!, adds up to “tomorrow I will be”? (Ero cras, with the “e” standing for “Emmanuel” and the “s” standing for “sapientia.” You can fill in the rest. Weird but charming.


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