As we approach the octave before Christmas, there is a beautiful longstanding tradition in the Church of praying the “O Antiphons.” These short prayers help us more deeply prepare for the coming of our Lord and Savior.
The antiphons may be somewhat familiar to people because they are the inspiration for the well-known hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” These prayers have actually been a part of the Church’s liturgy for more than a thousand years. The origin of this tradition is not fully known but it has been in use liturgically since the eighth century. The composition of these prayers likely originated much earlier, however.
Traditionally the Church prays the “O Antiphons” from December 17 through December 23, in the Evening Prayer (Vespers) of the Liturgy of the Hours, before and after the Magnificat. Each of these prayers begins with the word “O” – thus the name – and highlights one of the prophetic titles given to the Messiah taken from the book of Isaiah.