The Great O Antiphons

The Great O Antiphons

ACCLAMATION   The acclamations follow the Christological titles, They share the same sublime purpose of the Magnificat: to herald the grandeur of the salvation that the Son of God will bring; You fill the universe and hold all things together; You appeared to Moses and gave him the law; You stand as an ensign for the nations; What you open no one can close again; You are splendour of eternal light and sun of justice; You are the cornerstone which makes all one; You are our king and judge, the Saviour. Notice how they expand the titles, and explain them.

SUPPLICATION   The Invocation “O Come”, professes the community’s hope that, since he has always revealed himself as The-One-Who-Comes, so he will not delay. Thus the O which was a vocative at the beginning of the Antiphon becomes an urgent supplication at this point. O come and teach us; O come and save us; O come to deliver us; O come and free the captive; O come and enlighten us; O come and save man; O come and save us. We who make these appeals may well be redeemed, but we labour under the shadow of original sin. Until he comes to be fully formed in us, as once he was in Mary, we cannot grow, in the words of St. Paul, to maturity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Each exclamation consequently signifies desperate need and desperate hope. Upon his safe delivery depends our safe delivery. The supplicatory verbs – teach us, save, us, deliver us; free those, enlighten those, save man, come and save us, bespeaks the love that seeks to unite our will with the will of God the Redeemer.

But faith, hope and love that underpin the prayers of Advent are sometimes fragile and often weak. And so, for all the beauty of the language, the antiphons are a cry from a wounded people who have known the loss of grace and dignity through sin. The petitions they contain therefore are not composed for aesthetic pleasure or for mere literary appreciation. They are carefully planned to articulate the very real need of the whole of mankind, a fallen race which, though redeemed, is not yet fully saved. What they request corresponds to the state of the human condition as revealed in scripture and by the experience of every thinking person. The antiphons are the fruit of the Church’s prolonged examination of conscience. Such self-scrutiny is feasible precisely because of Christmas. Advent is there to encourage and assure God’s people that, when we admit our insufficiency, God comes. It is the Church’s confidence in the God who comes that makes the owning of sin, implied in the Magnificat versicles such a joyful and not a pessimistic experience. It has grasped as Good News what God is telling it through the liturgies of Advent and Christmastide: that sin, once admitted, is no obstacle to his love, since it is for sinners that the Son of God became Son of Man, to transform the sons of men into sons of God.