Late in December, as the days get shorter, the Church waits with expectant hope to celebrate the birth of Jesus. He is the light of the world and the day that is without end. These last days of the Advent season are marked with longing and preparation, with excitement and anticipation. At the same time that we prepare our homes to welcome guests from near and far, we prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus.
We light the candles of the Advent wreath to bring warm light to the cold dark of winter. When the sun sets, the Church gathers for evening prayer or vespers. We pray special antiphons at the end of the Advent season that recall how Jesus’s coming was foretold to the children of Israel. Each antiphon begins with a proclamation of hope and joy that uses an Old Testament title for the Messiah, God’s anointed one. Because of this opening call, they have become known as the “O Antiphons.” The Church prays one each evening from December 17 through December 23.
How can you make the church’s ancient prayers part of your family or your community’s Advent devotion? Before you get too busy preparing for Christmas, take time in the last days of Advent to wait and to hope. Here are some possible ways that you can make the Church’s prayer your own:
December 17 (O Sapientia)
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
Read Colossians 3:12–17, especially verse 16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” Find songs and hymns to sing, but make them Advent ones! “O Come, Divine Messiah,” “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” or “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (based on these antiphons) would be perfect. Also, today is Pope Francis’s birthday, so pray that the Holy Father may be blessed with health, well-being, and wisdom from God.
December 18 (O Adonai)
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
Pray for those in authority: your parents; your boss; your priests; the Archbishop; and those in public office. Pray that God will guide them in their roles and give them strength to lead and serve those entrusted to them.
December 19 (O Radix Jesse)
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
Bring a poinsettia or a Christmas decoration to a family member, friend or neighbor. Pray this antiphon with that person; then ask for a new springtime of hope to flower in their lives. Decorate your Christmas tree with your family; then pray for the love of God to take root in your home during the coming year.
December 20 (O Clavis David)
O Key of David
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
Celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation and make a good Advent confession! Ask the Father to open your heart; pray that Jesus will free you from sin; beg the Holy Spirit to unlock the door of mercy for you to enter. Set up your nativity scene and read Luke 2:8–14, especially verse 11, “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.”
December 21 (O Oriens)
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.
Set your alarm, get up early, and go to morning Mass! Invite a family member, friend, or co-worker to meet you there. Light a candle at church. Pray for a living person, that God will shine the light of his face on them. Pray for someone who has died, that they will see God face to face in heaven’s light. Read the lyrics to the Advent hymn “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns.”
December 22 (O Rex Gentium)
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
Read Revelation 19:5–19, especially verse 16, “King of Kings and Lord of Lord.” Listen to the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Pray for peace among all nations, especially in the Holy Land; then pray that your family will come under the peaceful rule of the King of Kings.
December 23 (O Emmanuel)
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!
Pray the Hail Mary or the rosary as a family. Reflect on the words “the Lord is with you.” Remember that “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.” Pray the Magnificat (Luke 2:46–55). Ask Our Lady to bring you and your family close to Jesus.