Tag Archives: Great “O” Antiphons

O Virgo virginum

December 23: The Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary – Eighth Antiphon (according to the Sarum Use / Book of Common Prayer)

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? quia nec primam similem visa es, nec habere sequentem. Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

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

This feast, which is now kept not only throughout the whole of Spain but in many other parts of the Catholic world, owes its origin to the bishops of the tenth Council of Toledo, in 656. These prelates thought that there was an incongruity in the ancient practice of celebrating the feast of the Annunciation on the twenty-fifth of March, inasmuch as this joyful solemnity frequently occurs at the time when the Church is intent upon the Passion of our Lord, so that it is sometimes obliged to be transferred into Easter time, with which it is out of harmony for another reason; they therefore decreed that, henceforth, in the Church of Spain there should be kept, eight days before Christmas, a solemn feast with an octave, in honour of the Annunciation, and as a preparation for the great solemnity of our Lord's Nativity. In course of time, however, the Church of Spain saw the necessity of returning to the practice of the Church of Rome, and of those of the whole world, which solemnize the twenty-fifth of March as the day of our Lady's Annunciation and the Incarnation of the Son of God. But such had been, for ages, the devotion of the people for the feast of the eighteenth of December, that it was considered requisite to maintain some vestige of it. They discontinued, therefore, to celebrate the Annunciation on this day; but the faithful were requested to consider, with devotion, what must have been the sentiments of the holy Mother of God during the days immediately preceding her giving Him birth. A new feast was instituted, under the name of the Expectation of the blessed Virgin's delivery.

This feast, which sometimes goes under the name of Our Lady of O, or the feast of O, on account of the great antiphons which are sung during these days, and, in a special manner, of that which begins O Virgo virginum (which is still used in the Vespers of the Expectation, together with the O Adonaï, the antiphon of the Advent Office), is kept with great devotion in Spain. A High Mass is sung at a very early hour each morning during the octave, at which all who are with child, whether rich or poor, consider it a duty to assist, that they may thus honour our Lady's Maternity, and beg her blessing upon themselves. It is not to be wondered at that the Holy See has approved of this pious practice being introduced into almost every other country. We find that the Church of Milan, long before Rome conceded this feast to the various dioceses of Christendom, celebrated the Office of our Lady's Annunciation on the sixth and last Sunday of Advent, and called the whole week following the Hebdomada de Exceptato (for thus the popular expression had corrupted the word Expectato). But these details belong strictly to the archaeology of liturgy, and enter not into the plan of our present work; let us, then, return to the feast of our Lady's Expectation, which the Church has established and sanctioned as a new means of exciting the attention of the faithful during these last days of Advent.

Most just indeed it is, O holy Mother of God, that we should unite in that ardent desire thou hadst to see him, who had been concealed for nine months in thy chaste womb; to know the features of this Son of the heavenly Father, who is also thine; to come to that blissful hour of his birth, which will give glory to God in the highest, and, on earth, peace to men of good-will. Yes, dear Mother, the time is fast approaching, though not fast enough to satisfy thy desires and ours. Make us redouble our attention to the great mystery; complete our preparation by thy powerful prayers for us, that when the solemn hour has come, our Jesus may find no obstacle to his entrance into our hearts.

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O Emmanuel

December 22: Seventh Antiphon (according to the Sarum Use / Book of Common Prayer)

O Emmanuel, Rex et Legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et salvator earum; veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations, and their Salvation: Come and save us, O Lord our God!

O Emmanuel! King of peace! Thou enterest today the city of thy predilection, the city in which thou hast placed thy temple—Jerusalem. A few years hence the same city will give thee thy cross and thy sepulchre: nay, the day will come on which thou wilt set up thy judgement-seat within sight of her walls. But to-day thou enterest the city of David and Solomon unnoticed and unknown. It lies on thy road to Bethlehem. Thy blessed Mother and Joseph her spouse would not lose the opportunity of visiting the temple, there to offer to the Lord their prayers and adoration. They enter; and then, for the first time, is accomplished the prophecy of Aggeus, that great shall be the glory of this last house more than of the first;[1] for this second temple has now standing within it an ark of the Covenant more precious than was that which Moses built; and within this ark, which is Mary, is contained the God whose presence makes her the holiest of sanctuaries. The Lawgiver himself is in this blessed ark, and not merely, as in that of old, the tablet of stone on which the Law was graven. The visit paid, our living ark descends the steps of the temple, and sets out once more for Bethlehem, where other prophecies are to be fulfilled. We adore thee, O Emmanuel! in this thy journey, and we reverence the fidelity wherewith thou fulfillest all that the prophets have written of thee; for thou wouldst give to thy people the certainty of thy being the Messias, by showing them that all the marks, whereby he was to be known, are to be found in thee. And now, the hour is near; all is ready for thy birth ; come then, and save us; come, that thou mayst not only be called our Emmanuel, but our Jesus, that is, he that saves us.

A Great Antiphon to Jerusalem

O Hierusalem! civitas Dei summi, leva in circuitu oculos tuos; et vide Dominum tuum, quia jam veniet solvere te a vinculis.

O Jerusalem! city of the great God: lift up thine eyes round about, and see thy Lord, for he is coming to loose thee from thy chains.


[1] Agg. ii. l0.

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O Rex Gentium

December 21: Sixth Antiphon (according to the Sarum Use / Book of Common Prayer)

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum; veni, et salva hominem quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their Desire, the Corner-stone, who makest both one: Come and save mankind, whom thou formedst of clay.

O King of nations! Thou art approaching still nigher to Bethlehem, where thou art to be born. The journey is almost over, and thy august Mother, consoled and strengthened by the dear weight she bears, holds an unceasing converse with thee on the way. She adores thy divine majesty; she gives thanks to thy mercy; she rejoices that she has been chosen for the sublime ministry of being Mother to God. She longs for that happy moment when her eyes shall look upon thee, and yet she fears it. For, how will she be able to render thee those services which are due to thy infinite greatness, she that thinks herself the last of creatures? How will she dare to raise thee up in her arms, and press thee to her heart, and feed thee at her breasts? When she reflects that the hour is now near at hand, in which, being born of her, thou wilt require all her care and tenderness, her heart sinks within her; for, what human heart could bear the intense vehemence of these two affections—the love of such a Mother for her Babe, and the love of such a creature for her God? But thou supportest her, O thou the Desired of nations! for thou, too, longest for that happy birth, which is to give to the earth its Saviour, and to men that corner-stone, which will unite them all into one family. Dearest King! be thou blessed for all these wonders of thy power and goodness! Come speedily, we beseech thee, come and save us, for we are dear to thee, as creatures that have been formed by thy divine hands. Yea, come, for thy creation has grown degenerate; it is lost; death has taken possession of it: take thou it again into thy almighty hands, and give it a new creation; save it; for thou hast not ceased to take pleasure in and love thine own work.

A Great Antiphon in honour of Christ

O Rex pacifice, tu ante saecula nate, per auream egredere portam, redemptos tuos visita, et eos illuc revoca, unde ruerunt per culpam.

O King of peace! that wast born before all ages, come by the golden gate; visit them whom thou hast redeemed, and lead them back to the place whence they fell by sin.

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O Oriens

December 20: Fifth Antiphon (according to the Sarum Use / Book of Common Prayer)

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae; veniet illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Day-spring, Brightness of Light everlasting, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten him that sitteth in darkness, and the shadow of death.

O Jesus, divine Sun! Thou art coming to snatch us from eternal night: blessed for ever be thy infinite goodness! But thou puttest our faith to the test, before showing thyself in all thy brightness. Thou hidest thy rays, until the time decreed by thy heavenly Father comes, in which all thy beauty will break upon the world; thou art traversing Judea; thou art near Jerusalem; the journey of Mary and Joseph is nigh its term. Crowds of men pass or meet thee on the road, each one hurrying to his native town, there to be enrolled, as the edict commands. Not one of all these suspects that thou, O divine Orient! art so near him. They see thy Mother Mary, and they see nothing in her above the rest of women; or if they are impressed by the majesty and incomparable modesty of this august Queen, it is but a vague feeling of surprise at there being such dignity in one so poor as she is; and they soon forget her again. If the Mother is thus an object of indifference to them, it is not to be expected that they will give even so much as a thought to her Child, that is net yet born. And yet this Child is thyself, O Sun of justice! Oh! increase our faith, but increase, too, our love. If these men loved thee, O Redeemer of mankind, thou wouldst give them the grace to feel thy presence. Their eyes, indeed, would not yet see thee, but their hearts, at least, would burn within them, they would long for thy coming, and would hasten it by their prayers and sighs. Dearest Jesus! who thus traversest the world thou hast created, and who forcest not the homage of thy creatures, we wish to keep near thee during the rest of this thy journey: we kiss the footsteps of her that carries thee in her womb; we will not leave thee, until we arrive together with thee at Bethlehem, that house of bread, where, at last, our eyes will see thee, O splendour of eternal light, our Lord and our God!

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O Clavis David

December 19: Fourth Antiphon (according to the Sarum Use / Book of Common Prayer)

O Clavis David et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit; veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel; that openest, and no man shutteth, and shuttest, and no man openeth: Come, and bring the prisoner out of the prison-house, and him that sitteth in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

O Jesus, Son of David! heir to his throne and his power! Thou art now passing over, in thy way to Bethlehem, the land that once was the kingdom of thy ancestor, but now is tributary to the Gentiles. Scarce an inch of this ground which has not witnessed the miracles of the justice and mercy of Jehovah, thy Father, to the people of the old Covenant, which is so soon to end. Before long, when thou hast come from beneath the virginal cloud which now hides thee, Thou wilt pass along this same road doing good,[1] healing all manner of sickness and every infirmity,[2] and yet having not where to lay thy head[3]. Now, at least, thy Mother's womb affords thee the sweetest rest, and thou receivest from her the profoundest adoration and the tenderest love. But, dear Jesus, it is thine own blessed will that thou leave this loved abode. Thou hast, O eternal Light, to shine in the midst of this world's darkness, this prison where the captive, whom thou hast come to deliver, sits in the shadow of death. Open his prison-gates by thy all-powerful key. And who is this captive, but the human race, the slave of error and vice? Who is this captive, but the heart of man, which is thrall to the very passions it blushes to obey? Oh! come and set at liberty the world thou hast enriched by thy grace, and the creatures whom thou hast made to be thine own brethren.

An Antiphon to the Angel Gabriel

O Gabriel! nuntius coelorum, qui januis clausis ad me intrasti, et Verbum nunciasti: Concipies et paries: Emmanuel vocabitur.

O Gabriel! the messenger of heaven, who earnest unto me through the closed doors, and didst announce the Word unto me: Thou shalt conceive and bear a Son, and he shall be called Emmanuel.


[1] Acts x. 38.

[2] St. Matt. iv. 23.

[3] St. Luke ix. 58.

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O Radix Jesse

December 18: Third Antiphon (according to the Sarum Use / Book of Common Prayer)

O radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, which standest for the ensign of the people; at whom kings shall shut their mouths, to whom the Gentiles shall seek: Come and deliver us; and tarry not.

At length, O Son of Jesse! Thou art approaching the city of thy ancestors. The Ark of the Lord has risen, and journeys, with the Gcd that is in her, to the place of her rest. How beautiful are thy steps, O thou daughter of the Prince,[1] now that thou art bringing to the cities of Juda their salvation! The angels escort thee, thy faithful Joseph lavishes his love upon thee, heaven delights in thee, and our earth thrills with joy to bear thus upon itself its Creator and its Queen. Go forward, O Mother of God and Mother of men! Speed thee, thou propitiatory that holdest within thee the divine Manna which gives us life! Our hearts are with thee, and count thy steps. Like thy royal ancestor David, we will not enter into the dwelling of our house, nor go up into the bed whereon we lie, nor give sleep to our eyes, nor rest to our temples, until we have found a place in our hearts for the Lord whom thou bearest, a tabernacle for this God of Jacob.[2] Come, then, O Root of Jesse! thus hidden in this Ark of purity; thou wilt soon appear before thy people as the standard round which all that would conquer must rally. Then their enemies, the kings of the world, will be silenced, and the nations will offer thee their prayers. Hasten thy coming, dear Jesus! Come and conquer all our enemies, and deliver us.


[1] 1 Cant. vii. 1.

[2] 2 Ps- cxxxi 3-5.

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O Adonai

December 17: Second Antiphon (according to the Sarum Use / Book of Common Prayer)

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and leader of the house of Israel, who appearedst in the Bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gavest him the law in Sinai: Come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.

O sovereign Lord! O Adonai! come and redeem us, not by thy power, but by thy humility. Heretofore, thou didst show thyself to Moses thy servant in the midst of a mysterious flame; thou didst give thy law to thy people amidst thunder and lightning; now, on the contrary, thou comest not to terrify, but to save us. Thy chaste Mother having heard the emperor's edict, which obliges her and Joseph her spouse to repair to Bethlehem, prepares everything needed for thy divine Birth. She prepares for thee, O Sun of justice! the humble swathing-bands, wherewith to cover thy nakedness, and protect thee, the Creator of the world, from the cold of that midnight hour of thy Nativity! Thus it is that thou wiliest to deliver us from the slavery of our pride, and show man that thy divine arm is never stronger than when he thinks it powerless and still. Everything is prepared, then, dear Jesus! Thy swathing-bands are ready for thy infant limbs! Come to Bethlehem, and redeem us from the hands of our enemies.

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O Sapientia

The Great O Antiphons by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB (1801-1875), founder of the Abbey of Solesmes

(from L’Année Liturgique) – adapted for the Sarum sequence of the Antiphons

December 16: The beginning of the Great Antiphons (according to the Sarum Use / Book of Common Prayer)

The Church enters to-day on the seven days [eight days in our Anglican Use; see below] which precede the Vigil of Christmas, and which are known in the liturgy under the name of the Greater Ferias. The ordinary of the Advent Office becomes more solemn; the antiphons of the psalms, both for Lauds and the Hours of the day, are proper, and allude expressly to the great coming. Every day, at Vespers, is sung a solemn antiphon, consisting of a fervent prayer to the Messias, whom it addresses by one of the titles given Him in the sacred Scriptures.

In the Roman Church, there are seven of these antiphons, one for each of the greater ferias. They are commonly called the O's of Advent, because they all begin with that interjection. In other Churches, during the middle ages, two more were added to these seven; one to our blessed Lady, O Virgo virginum; and the other to the angel Gabriel, O Gabriel; or to St. Thomas the apostle, whose feast comes during the greater ferias ; it began O Thoma Didyme[1]. There were even Churches where twelve great antiphons were sung; that is, besides the nine we have just mentioned, O Rex Pacifice to our Lord, O mundi Domina to our Lady, and O Hierusalem to the city of the people of God.

In the English Church, following the Sarum Use, the Great "O" Antiphons were commenced on the 16th of December with an eighth antiphon, O Virgo virginum, said on the 23rd.  Though this usage appears by no means to have been exclusive to England and seems a later addition to the Roman custom, the editors are unclear on the origin of the modified practice.  Perhaps a liturgical historian could help us out?  In any event, whilst the Great "O" Antiphons themselves are not printed in the Book of Common Prayer, it should be noted that O Sapientia appears on the Prayer-book Kalendar at December 16.  The antiphons have have long been part of secondary Anglican liturgical sources, such as the English Hymnal.  More recently they have found a place in primary liturgical documents throughout the Anglican Communion, including the Church of England's Common Worship liturgy (though this later follows the Roman timing and sequence).

The canonical Hour of Vespers has been selected as the most appropriate time for this solemn supplication to our Saviour, because, as the Church sings in one of her hymns, it was in the evening of the world (vergente mundi vespere) that the Messias came amongst us. These antiphons are sung at the Magnificat, to show us that the Saviour whom we expect is to come to us by Mary. They are sung twice, once before and once after the canticle, as on double feasts, and this to show their great solemnity. In some Churches it was formerly the practice to sing them thrice; that is, before the canticle, before the Gloria Patri, and after the Sicut erat. Lastly, these admirable antiphons, which contain the whole pith of the Advent liturgy, are accompanied by a chant replete with melodious gravity, and by ceremonies of great expressiveness, though, in these latter, there is no uniform practice followed. Let us enter into the spirit of the Church ; let us reflect on the great day which is coming; that thus we may take our share in these the last and most earnest solicitations of the Church imploring her Spouse to come, to which He at length yields.

First Antiphon

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia; veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, which camest out of the mouth of the most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily, and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.


O uncreated Wisdom, who art so soon to make thyself visible to thy creatures, truly thou disposest all things. It is by thy permission that the emperor Augustus issues a decree ordering the enrolment of the whole world. Each citizen of the vast empire is to have his name enrolled in the city of his birth. This prince has no other object in this order, which sets the world in motion, but his own ambition. Men go to and fro by millions, and an unbroken procession traverses the immense Roman world; men think they are doing the bidding of man, and it is God whom they are obeying. This world-wide agitation has really but one object; it is, to bring to Bethlehem a man and woman who live at Nazareth in Galilee, in order that this woman, who is unknown to the world but dear to heaven, and who is at the close of the ninth month since she conceived her Child, may give birth to this Child in Bethlehem; for the Prophet has said of him: His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity. And thou, O Bethlehem! art not the least among the thousand cities of Juda, for out of thee he shall come.[2] O divine Wisdom! how strong art thou in thus reaching thine ends by means which are infallible, though hidden; and yet, how sweet, offering no constraint to man's free-will; and withal, how fatherly, in providing for our necessities! Thou choosest Bethlehem for thy birth-place, because Bethlehem signifies the house of bread. In this, thou teachest us that thou art our Bread, the nourishment and support of our life. With God as our food, we cannot die. O Wisdom of the Father, living Bread that hast descended from heaven, come speedily into us, that thus we may approach to thee and be enlightened[3] by thy light, and by that prudence which leads to salvation.

A Prayer for the time of Advent (Mozarabic Breviary)

O Jesus, Son of God! born of a Virgin! whose Nativity struck the nations with terror, and compelled kings to reverence thee; grant unto us the beginning of Wisdom, which is thy fear; that we may thereby yield fruit, and render thee, by our advancement in the same, the fruits of peace. O thou that didst come like a torrent to call the nations, and wast born on earth for the conversion of sinners, show unto us the gift of thy grace, whereby all fear being removed, we may ever follow thee by the chaste love of inward charity. Amen.


[1] It is more modern than the O Gabriel; but dating from the thirteenth century, it was almost universally substituted for it.

[2] Mich. v. 2; St. Matt. ii. 6.

[3] Ps. xxxiii. 6.

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