The O Antiphons

The O Antiphons & Christmas Services

Dear <<First Name>>,

I hope you’ve found the four weeks we’ve spent reflecting on Heaven, Hell, Death and Judgement stimulating.  These are traditional Advent themes – though often not ones we dwell on.  I’m grateful to Paul Nimmo, Ruth Dillon and Julian Templeton, in particular, for leading us through our thoughts and for the variety of people who contributed to our thinking about Hell.

Tomorrow we enter the latter part of Advent and turn to the O Antiphons – most clearly known to us in the hymn O Come O Come Emmanuel.    The O Antiphons (also known as the Great Advent Antiphons or Great Os) are collections of Scriptural verses used before and after the singing of the Magnificat at evening prayer in monastic houses and by those who use the Daily Office.  They are used, in Western Christianity, on the last seven days of Advent and date back to sixth-century Italy.  They subsequently became one of the key musical features of the days leading up to Christmas. 

The texts are best known in the English-speaking world in their paraphrased form in the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.  The first letters of the titles, from last to first, appear to form a Latin acrostic, Ero cras, meaning ‘Tomorrow, I will be [there]’, mirroring the theme of the antiphons. This is formed from the first letter of each Latin title – Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia. 

Each antiphon has the following structure:

  • a Messianic title preceded by “O”. eg: “O Wisdom”,
  • elaboration of the title: “coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things”,
  • the verb “to come”,
  • and elaboration of the request to come: “and teach us the way of prudence.” 

This week seven writers reflect on these antiphons and what the Scripture passages they come from can teach us.  I hope they help you as you make your final preparations for Christmas.

I thought you’d also like to know about the Christmas services we have over the next 10 days or so.

  • On Thursday evening I lead a Carol Service which, I hope, will lift your spirits.  It will be sent out at 6pm but could be listened to whenever is convenient. 
  • On Christmas Eve morning the service is led by the Rev’d Sarah Moore, Transition Champion for the Synod of Scotland.
  • On Christmas eve, at 9.30pm, I lead a late evening Communion Service for Christmas.
  • On Christmas Day, at  9.30am, Susan Durber leads us in a short Christmas service.

With every good wish


The Rev’d Andy Braunston
Minister for Digital Worship

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