“O stock of Jesse, you stand as a sign for the peoples. Kings fall silent before you, the nations acclaim you: delay no longer, but come to free us.”

—the Magnificat antiphon for December 19


It is the week before Christmas, which means it is the week of the O Antiphons.

I first experienced the O Antiphons at St. John’s Abbey in central Minnesota when I was in grad school at the seminary there. The week before Christmas at evening prayer, after the Magnificat, the monks would chant a beautiful hymn, each night invoking a different name of Jesus:

O Sapientia (Wisdom)
O Adonai (Lord)
O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
O Clavis David (Key of David)
O Oriens (Dayspring)
O Rex Gentium (King of the nations)
O Emmanuel (God-with-us)

You’re probably most familiar with the O Antiphons through the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Each of its seven verses is based on an O Antiphon.

Thomas Turner of Everyday Liturgy writes, “The O Antiphons are one way that Christians for over 1500 years have been preparing their hearts, souls, minds and bodies to celebrate the coming of Christ at the first Advent, Christmas.”

So this final Friday before Christmas, near the beginning of O Antiphon week, I invite you to pause and ponder the names of Jesus, their richness and beauty, and the One to whom they point our hearts.

Here are three resources I am enjoying:


Thomas Turner’s new e-book O Antiphons: Prayers for the Advent Season is a fresh reading of the O Antiphons, along with an Old and New Testament scripture reading and a meditation with discussion questions.

Of his book Thomas writes, “You can use this book to prayerfully come into the presence of the baby Jesus, born of a virgin, fully God and fully human in form, who is Wisdom in the flesh, our Lord, the Savior promised from David’s line, our Eternal Light, the King who unites all peoples and our Emmanuel, the God-who-is-with-us.”

It’s free. And it has beautiful illustrations. So go get yourself a copy. If you make a donation, Thomas will give half to the artist who illustrated the book and half to International Justice Mission.


Malcolm Guite’s beautiful collection of sonnets for the church year, Sounding the Seasons, includes a cycle of O Antiphons, which are among my favorite poems in the collection. I especially love “O Radix” (Root of Jesse), which includes these lines:

For now is winter, now is withering
Unless we let you root us deep within,
Under the ground of being, graft us in.

I wish I could quote the whole thing, but that’s against copyright. You really, really must get your hands on a copy. It’s worth it just for the O Antiphons. The bonus is that the book will last the whole year through, beautiful words to light your way through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time.


Finally, I want to share with you John Mason Neale’s translation of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” (It was originally a Latin hymn, a metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons.) Neale’s translation is just different enough from the hymn you usually sing that I hope its words will draw you up short and remind you how utterly amazing the Incarnation is.

The final two verses were translated in 1916 by Henry Sloane Coffin. The word “Orient” in the third verse is a transliteration of the Latin oriens, east, the place of daybreak.

May I suggest you sing it? The melody will slow you down so you can ponder the words rather than racing through them 🙂


Draw nigh, draw nigh, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear;
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall be born for thee, O Israel!

Draw nigh, O Jesse’s Rod, draw nigh,
To free us from the enemy;
From Hell’s infernal pit to save,
And give us victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall be born, for thee, O Israel!

Draw nigh, Thou Orient, Who shalt cheer
And comfort by Thine Advent here,
And banish far the brooding gloom
Of sinful night and endless doom.
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall be born for thee, O Israel!

Draw nigh, draw nigh, O David’s Key,
The Heavenly Gate will ope to Thee ;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall be born for thee, O Israel!

Draw nigh, draw nigh, O Lord of Might,
Who to Thy tribes from Sinai’s height
In ancient time didst give the Law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall be born for thee, O Israel!

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.



Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., Creative Commons via Flickr. Detail from the sanctuary arch of the basilica of St Paul outside the Walls in Rome, showing kings casting their crowns before God’s throne in heaven.