Introduction to the Christmas Novena and the O Antiphons
How can one explain the greatest, most singular event in human history? How can the extraordinary event of God becoming man in a Child be described? How do we account for the fact that God revealed His love in Jesus Christ?
The Advent Liturgy invites us to prepare our hearts to welcome the gift of the Baby Jesus with the stupor that we express with the exclamation “O”. In fact, these invocations are enshrined in the so-called major antiphons, or O Antiphons that are celebrated during the 9 days that proceed the Solemnity of Christmas.
All these antiphons start with the emphatic expression “O” which is an expression which arises from a heart that is filled with stupor. They are a series of Messianic invocations which call out to the promised One of the Old Testament to come and save His people.
The historic origin of these invocations dates back to the time of Gregory the Great around the start of the seventh century A.D. Even today, they maintain all their original beauty. Studies have noted that there is an acrostic that is formed from the reverse order of the antiphons.
O Sapientia – Wisdom
O Adonai – Lord
O Radix – Root
O Clavis – Key
O Oriens – Morning Star
O Rex – King
O Emmanuel – Emmanuel
Starting from the last antiphon, the first letter of the Latin word used to describe the Messiah spells “ERO CRAS” which means “I will come tomorrow”. It is the comforting response of the Messiah who accepts the plea of mankind to come. Whilst we invoke Him, He is already responding to our invocation with the promise which concludes the Book of Apocalypse “I am indeed coming soon” (Ap 22:20). The O Antiphons forcefully underline the fact that the Child placed in the manger is truly the God that we have desired and awaited through the centuries. He is the Eternal Wisdom, Our Lord, the long-awaited Messiah, the Root from the tree of Jesse, the Morning Star, the God with us – the Emmanuel. He has brought to fulfilment the awaiting of His people with the Incarnation.
Over time, other invocations were added to the seven original ones to take the form of a Novena – the Christmas Novena. These nine days of invocation are a truly Christological compendium to prepare for the coming of the Messiah who is about to arrive.
“Come Lord Jesus.” This is our joyous cry of Advent! Come Lord Jesus! Maranatha!