After the reading of Saint Matthew’s genealogy at Mass, at Evening Prayer (or Vespers) on December 17, the Magnificat—Mary’s prayer of praise and thanksgiving— is framed by the first of the O-Antiphons. Then, for the next six days, up until Christmas Eve, the remaining antiphons heighten the expectation of the Savior’s Birth. Their theological importance is two-fold: each highlights a title of the Messiah and, then, cites a prophecy of Isaiah in regard to the Messiah’s coming. This juxtaposition of Messianic titles and biblical prophecies creates a poetic antiphon filled with a spirit of expectation and ultimate fulfillment in the Word-made-flesh or the Incarnation.
O Wisdom : Isaiah had prophesied that the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge and fear of the Lord would be attributes of the Messiah (Is 11:2-3). The prophet later personified Wisdom as present at the dawn of creation (Is 28:29) and, so, Christ is the eternal Word of the Father and the foundation of the Spirit’s gifts; wisdom brings in its wake prudence or practical judgment.
O Sacred Lord of Ancient Israel (Adonai). From eternal wisdom, then God manifests Himself to Moses and gave the Law. Adonai spoke to Moses out of a burning bush and told him to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (Ex 3:1-22). Isaiah foretold that righteousness would be the Messiah’s hallmark (Is 11:5) and that Adonai would be judge, ruler, and king who was destined to save (Is 33:22).
O Root of Jesse’s Stem: Jesse was the father of King David and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David (Mic 5:1). Isaiah declared that the throne of David would be restored by means of a new branch budding out from the old root of Jesse and will inherit the royal throne forever (Is 11:1, 10). This branch of Jesse’s stem will be an ensign for all the nations (Is 52:15).
O Key of David: Isaiah had told that the Key of David would be given to the Messiah, a key that controls people’s coming and going. (Is 22:22). Scepter and key are traditional symbols of royal power and kingly authority. Thus, as heir to the throne of David and the embodiment of the Kingdom of God, after rising from the dead, such power and authority was given to the Lord and the authority to “bind and to loose” was entrusted to Saint Peter and the Church.
O Radiant Dawn: Isaiah foretold that those enshrined in darkness, one day, would see a great light (Is 9:1). Christ is the true Light, splendor of the Father. Saint Luke declares “because of the tender mercy of our God…the daybreak from on high will visit us” (Lk 1:78).
O King of All Nations: Among the prophecies of Isaiah, in one, he foretold that the child who was to come would have dominion resting on his shoulders and, then, a series of glorious titles was added by which the Child would be known (Is 9:5). Explicitly, this antiphon denotes the Messiah as King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all the nations. He will be the cornerstone or the solid foundation upon which faith is built and uniting Jew and Gentile into one.
O Emmanuel: Because that sacred Name means God-with-us (Is 7,14), the ever-increasing expectation of the arrival of the Messiah reaches its zenith and joy is the mark that certainty in that promise’s fulfillment brings. God becomes incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary and, though human like us, the Child is highly exalted as King, Lawgiver, and Judge. The repeated use of Come (Lat.
veni) heightens the universal longing for the messiah -
Veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster — Come and save us, O Lord our God.
Msgr. Peter Beaulieu