We’re eight days out from Christmas, which means today is the first day of the “O Antiphons,” the famous verses in Vespers (evening prayer) that prepare us for the coming of Christ.
Father Z has a great explanation on the O Antiphons, as well as meditations on each day’s antiphon (click here for today’s). As I mentioned, the antiphons are prayed at Vespers, before and after the Magnificat. Vespers, or Evening Prayer, is part of the Divine Office, the prayer of the Church. The Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours) is prayed by every priest and consecrated religious throughout the day. It uses the Word of God (specifically, the Psalms) to praise and supplicate our good and gracious God at set times of the day (early morning, evening, nighttime, etc). The beautiful thing about the Divine Office is that, like the Mass, the prayers prayed every day, although they vary daily (based on a four-week cycle) are the same each day across the world – the Morning Prayer prayed by the priest in the underground Church in China is the same collection of Psalms and readings that is prayed by the cloistered nun in Germany a few hours later, and the same prayers that are prayed by the American bishop a few hours after that.
Part of Evening Prayer is the Magnificat, Mary’s canticle of humble praise during her Visitation to Elizabeth. Before and after this canticle, an antiphon is read or sung. For the seven days preceding Christmas Eve, the antiphons begin with “O ….” and then address Christ by one of his Old Testament titles.
If the titles and the prayers that follow the titles sound familiar, it’s because “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is based on the antiphons.
The monks who wrote the prayers were creative guys– if you take the first letter of each of the eight titles (in Latin), and work last (December 23rd) to first (December 17), you get the word EROCRAS, or ”I’ll be there tomorrow.”
O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.
O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who orders all things mightily,
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.