The O Antiphons will begin tonight, December 17, and continue through December 24th. They are such a centerpiece of the Advent liturgy that they were made into one of the most famous songs of Advent: "Veni, Veni Emmanuel."
Mary's Magnificat is part of the Vespers liturgy the year 'round. It is always preceded by an antiphon, recited before the "praying" of the song (songs and psalms are considered prayer in Christian liturgy). The "O" Antiphons for Advent were in liturgical use by the 8th century, and probably existed for some time before that. "The importance of the “O Antiphons” is twofold: Each one highlights a title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah. " And they are "a unique work of art and a special ornament of the pre-Christmas liturgy, filled with the Spirit of the Word of God".
As is typical of Christian liturgy, "The antiphons are, in fact, a collage of Old Testament types of Christ. Their predominant theme is messianic, stressing the hope of the Savior's coming. Jesus is invoked by various titles, mainly taken from the prophet Isaiah. The sequence progresses historically, from the beginning, before creation, to the very gates of Bethlehem." But also, they are simply lovely; and worth contemplating as the Christmas rush swirls us into a vortex down a Venturi tube. A beginning point to re-focus the celebrations of the season, and the ending of the calendar year.
O Wisdom, O holy word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care; Come and show your people the way to salvation.
O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.
O Flower of Jesse's stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; rulers stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.
O Key of David, O royal power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heave: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and lead your captive people to freedom.
O radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal night, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
O Ruler of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart, O Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind: Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.
O Emmanuel, ruler and lawgiver, desire of the nations, savior of all people; Come and set us free, Lord our God.
And, as I noted in 2006 (something perhaps only a pastor would love):
That canon urges the constant presence of the faithful in the church, calling on them not to stay at home or run off to the country or the mountains during a period of twenty-one continuous days, beginning from December 17 and reaching to the Epiphany.
Over 1600 years ago, people still had to be urged to attend worship during December. It helps put Kipling in perspective. Of course, Kipling helps put the modern church in perspective.