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A Devotion for the Last Days of Advent

As Advent draws near to its end, it is harder and harder to avoid thinking it is only about Christmas. Christmas is exceptionally important but, to understand it fully, we need to remind ourselves that Christmas is important because of what it begins. Jesus was not born in order to invent Christmas. Jesus was born to do much more important things than that! Traditionally, on the last days of Advent, at the service of Vespers, a series of special texts were added to the beginning and end of the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, which is sung every day at Vespers, or Evening Prayer. Each of these texts, called "antiphons", begins with the word "O", so they came to be known as the "Great O Antiphons". They also inspired the familiar hymn, "O come, O come, Emmanuel." (This page opens with the music of the hymn, as found on the website of the Internet Renaissance Band.)

We offer here another way of using the Great Oís. One may use as much or as little of this devotion as is appropriate. It could be used at any time of day, but the beginning or the end of a meal is suggested. The simplest use would be to say the antiphon, or to sing the verse of the hymn. Then, say the Lordís Prayer and conclude the devotion with a prayer appropriate for the season. If the devotion is used before a meal, the usual mealtime grace would be said in place of, or in addition to, the seasonal prayer.

For those who would like something more elaborate, additions could include the Magnificat and a reading from Scripture, and a time to meditate on and/or discuss the antiphon and the reading. In households with children, someone might give a very short explanation of the antiphon and reading.  Our friends at Project Canterbury have among their resources an article on the "The Advent Antiphons" by the third Bishop of Vermont, A.C.A. Hall.  Bishop Hall's article includes scriptural references and meditative paraphrases. There are lots of possibilities for using this devotion to enrich the observance of the last days of Advent. This is a resource, not a commandment. So, adapt it to your personal situation. Please note that in England there was one more antiphon than in Rome. Since we follow the English use, our Great O Antiphons begin on December 16th

The English text of the antiphons provided here is adapted from various sources, with reference to the original Latin.  The text of the hymn, "O come, O come, Emmanuel" is the version found in The Hymnal 1940, "based on Latin, c. 9th cent.; St. 1,3,4,5,6, pub. Cologne, 1710."  We provide a newly composed verse to correspond with the English antiphon for December 23rd.

The Devotion

The Antiphon

December 16th - O Sapientia
O Wisdom, who didst issue out of the mouth of the most High, and dost reach from one end of the world to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
Refrain:  Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
               Shall come to thee, O Israel!

December 17th - O Adonai
O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, who didst appear to Moses in a burning bush, and didst give him the law on Sinai: Come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
Who to thy tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient times didst give the law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.

December 18th - O Radix Jesse
O Root of Jesse, who standest for an ensign to the peoples, at whom kings shall shut their mouths, and to whom the Gentiles shall pray: Come and deliver us, and do not delay. 

O come, thou Rod of Jesse's stem,
From every foe deliver them
That trust thy mighty power to save,
And give them vict'ry o'er the grave.

December 19th - O Clavis David
O Key of David, and Scepter of the house of Israel; who openest and no one shutteth, who shuttest and no one openeth: come and bring the prisoners out of the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. 

O come, thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

December 20th - O Oriens
O Day-Spring, radiant everlasting Light, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

O come, thou Day-spring from on high,
And cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadow put to flight.

December 21st - O Rex gentium
O King of the Nations, and their Desire; the Cornerstone who dost unite the divided into one: Come and save mankind, whom thou didst create out of clay.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid thou our sad divisions cease,
And be thyself our King of Peace.

December 22nd - O Emmanuel
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the One whom the Gentiles expect, and their Salvation: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

December 23rd - O Virgo virginum
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? for neither was there any like thee before thee, nor shall there be after: Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel at me? the thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

O glorious Virgin, Salem quakes.
What news is this that Gabriel breaks?
Behold, the sacred mystery:
For God himself takes flesh in thee.1

The Magnificat (if this is said or sung, the antiphon is said or sung both before and after the canticle)]

My soul doth magnify the Lord, *
     and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded *
     the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold from henceforth *
     all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, *
     and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him *
     throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm; *
     he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, *
     and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, *
     and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, *
     as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; *
     as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Scripture Reading

December 16th:  Ecclesiasticus 24:1-8 or Proverbs 8:1,22-32

December 17th:  Isaiah 43:1-7

December 18th:  Isaiah 11:1-9

December 19th:  Isaiah 22:20-24

December 20th:  Isaiah 42:1-7

December 21st:  Isaiah 45:8-13

December 22nd:  Isaiah 33:20-22 and Isaiah 7:14

December 23rd:  Luke 1:26-38

The Lordís Prayer

The Collect for the Last Sunday of Advent

We beseech thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by thy daily visitation, that when thy Son our Lord cometh he may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Grace before a Meal

Click here for a printable version of The Advent Devotion in PDF format

Links:  O Wisdom:  Advent's Great O Antiphons
           The Advent Antiphons
           Chantblog, with links to mp3 audio files of most of the antiphons

1 This verse © Gary W. Kriss, 2005

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