16 December 2005

Faciendum Suum O!

Yes, the Great O Antiphons are upon us. Tomorrow begins the solemn waiting period of the privileged days which precede Christmas. Many people will recognize these antiphons as the historical basis for the popular Advent hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. History tells us very little about the origins of Advent and even less about the origins of these haunting antiphons. One of the charming anecdotes about their discovery is from the ledger books of ancient monasteries, where large amounts of money were dispensed for food beginning on 17 December. This has suggested to students of history that the monasteries began their Christmas celebrations with the O Antiphons, nearly a week prior to Christmas.

The Great O Antiphons are sung at Vespers, a time of fullness and anticipation. All seven antiphons have the same structure: each antiphon begins with an apostrophe, addressing Jesus with a title from the Old Testament; each one has the imperative, "come!" which begins a short petition, to end the antiphon. Rich in symbolism and unknown in origin, the O Antiphons add solemnity to the Church's prayer on the seven days prior to Christmas Eve as they unite centuries of believers who have prayed the same words in anticipation of the same great feast.

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