Friday, December 16, 2011

The O Antiphons

O Antiphons. Detail from the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan Van Eyck (c. 1420)
One of my favorite childhood Christmas songs O Come, O Come Emmanuel, are now part of my Vesper prayers. This last week of Advent the O Antiphons are upon us!  Starting tomorrow Teach What You Believe will feature seven days of the great O Antiphons along with a very short meditation to bring a contemporary perspective to these ancient prayers.

The origin of these short prayers are unknown but appear in writings dating back to the 5th century. By the 8th and 9th centuries they were being chanted by monks in Rome.

All seven prayers follow a unique literary structure. All begin with an invocation of the expected Messiah followed by praise using a particular title. All end with a plea to "Come" followed by a petition tying back to that particular title.

With the Antiphons concluding on December 23, those playful Christian monks added a twist to the prayers by having the first letters spell out (in reverse order) the acrostic ero cras, which translates: "tomorrow I will be," thus heralding the birth of the one who is to be called Jesus.

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