Today, the Church enters into the Greater Ferias, the seven days before Christmas Eve, wherein the Office of the Readings becomes more solemn as we near the holiest day on which the Son of God was born of a Virgin.
Since about the eighth century, every evening during Vespers, Catholics have sung a holy antiphon that alludes to the Coming of the Christ Child. These Antiphons, which precede the Magnificat in the Office, are called the "O Antiphons" because each one begins with "O" and addresses Jesus with a unique title that comes from the prophecies of Isaias or Micah. These titles proclaim the coming of the Messiah, and they rejoice that He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and hopes.
As Dom Prosper Geranger, O.P. says in The Liturgical Year,
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, and to which He at length yields.
For those of us alive today, the longings expressed in these antiphons mirror those in our hearts during this holy time. Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, when you read the first letters of each title backwards--Ero Cras--it means "Tomorrow, I come" in Latin.
Many of these beautiful titles are included in the song we all sing at this time of year, O Come, O Come Emmanuel / Veni Veni Emmanuel.
Below are meditations taken from The Liturgical Year, Bible verses that relate to the O Antiphons for each day, and the English and Latin translations of the Antiphon, along with a video of the chanted antiphon. At the end of the post is the text of the Magnificat and a downloadable pdf of the antiphons that you can print out, all in an effort to help you enter into the beauty of these holy days.
No matter how your Advent has been so far, whether you've been successful or less than perfect in performing your Advent fasts and penances, today, let us enter into this quiet time and invite our Lord, solemnly, together, to come into our hearts and lives, and to never leave.
O Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence!
O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.
And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord, He shall not judge according to the sight of the eyes, nor reprove according to the hearing of the ears.
This also is come forth from the Lord God of hosts, to make his counsel wonderful, and magnify justice.
O Uncreated Wisdom! that 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 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 I art not the least among the thousand cities of Juda, for out of thee He shall come." [Mich. v. 2; St Matth. ii. 6.]. 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 [Ps. xxxiii. 6.] by thy light, and by that prudence which leads to salvation.
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.
O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm!
O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammæ rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
But he shall judge the poor with justice, and shall reprove with equity the meek of the earth: and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. And justice shall be the girdle of his loins: and faith the girdle of his reins.
For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king: he will save us.
O Sovereign Lord! O Adonaï! 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, she 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 mid-night hour of thy Nativity! Thus it is that thou willest 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.
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliver us, do not tarry.
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.
In that day the root of Jesse, who standeth for an ensign of the people, him the Gentiles shall beseech, and his sepulchre shall be glorious.
Now shalt thou be laid waste, O daughter of the robber: they have laid siege against us, with a rod shall they strike the cheek of the judge of Israel.
For I say that Christ Jesus was minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers. But that the Gentiles are to glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: Therefore will I confess to thee, O Lord, among the Gentiles, and will sing to thy name. And again he saith: Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again: Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and magnify him, all ye people. And again Isaias saith: There shall be a root of Jesse; and he that shall rise up to rule the Gentiles, in him the Gentiles shall hope. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing; that you may abound in hope, and in the power of the Holy Ghost.
And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne, a book written within and without, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel, proclaiming with a loud voice: Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man was able, neither in heaven, nor on earth, nor under the earth, to open the book, nor to look on it. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open the book, nor to see it. And one of the ancients said to me: Weep not; behold the lion of the tribe of Juda, the root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
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 God that is in her, to the place of her rest. "How beautiful are thy steps, O thou daughter of the Prince," [Cant. vii. 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 enter not 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." [Ps. cxxxi. 3-5.] Come, then, O Root of Jesse! thus hid 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.
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
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.
And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open.
For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace.
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 the mercy of Jehovah, thy Father, to the people of that 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 [Acts, x. 36.], healing all manner of sickness and every infirmity [St Matth. iv. 23.], and yet having not where to lay thy head? [St. Luke, ix. 58.] 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 art 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.
O Orient! splendour of eternal light, and Sun of Justice! come and enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen.
For behold the day shall come kindled as a furnace: and all the proud, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall set them on fire, saith the Lord of hosts, it shall not leave them root, nor branch. But unto you that fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health in his wings: and you shall go forth, and shall leap like calves of the herd. And you shall tread down the wicked when they shall be ashes under the sole of your feet in the day that I do this, saith the Lord of hosts.
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 not 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!
O King of nations, and their desired One, and the corner-stone that makest both one; come and save man whom thou formedst out of slime.
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
His empire shall be multiplied, and there shall be no end of peace: he shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom; to establish it and strengthen it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and for ever: the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
And he shall judge the Gentiles, and rebuke many people: and they shall turn their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they be exercised any more to war.
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 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 it thou 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
O Emmanuel, our King and our Lawgiver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel.
O Emmanuel! King of Peace! thou enterest to-day the city of thy predilection, the city in which thou hast placed thy Temple, - Jerusalem. A few years hence, and the same city will give thee thy Cross and thy Sepulchre: nay, the day will come, on which thou wilt set up thy Judgment-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 [Agg. ii. 10.] ; 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, there 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 mayest not only be called our Emmanuel, but our Jesus, that is, He that saves us.
My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord / Magnificat
My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For He hath regarded the humility of His handmaiden.
Magnificat anima mea Dominum, et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salvatore meo, quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae.