The O Antiphons (6th Century)

[#16 in the series This Week in English Catholic History: Week of December 16 – 22]



HIS week in English Catholic History, we examine the O Antiphons, which in the Ordinariate are sung during Evening Prayer on December 17-24 (in the Ordinariate’s Office) or 16 -23 depending upon what Office is used and are based on the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah.


O Sapientia, December 17; see Isaiah 11:2-3, Isaiah 28:29, Sirach 24:1-5, Wisdom of Solomon 8:1

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Adonai, December 18; see Isaiah 11:4-5, Isaiah 33:22; Exodus 3:2; Exodus 24:12

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

O Radix Jesse, December 19; see Isaiah 11:1, Isaiah 11:10, Isaiah 45:14, Isaiah 52:15, Micah 5:2, Romans 15:12

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you nations will make their prayer: come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

O Clavis David, December 20; see Isaiah 22:22, Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah 42:7

O Key of David and scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Oriens, December 21; see Isaiah 9:2, Isaiah 60:1-2, Malachi 4:2

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness: come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Rex Gentium, December 22; see Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 2:4, Isaiah 28:16, Isaiah 64:8, Ephesians 2:14

O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

O Emmanuel, December 23; see Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Savior: come and save us, O Lord our God.

O Virgo Virginum, December 24; see Song of Songs 1:5, Memorare, Luke 2:5-6

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

Apparently originating in or prior to the Sixth Century, the O antiphons appear both in the Breviarum Romanum, the Church of England’s Common Worship liturgy and now in the Divine Office of the Ordinariates of Anglicanorum coetibus.

Note: If you would like to pray the O Antiphons as part of Evening Prayer, please visit


For a weekly dose of English Catholic Patrimony, if your Ordinariate parish or parochial community would like to receive This Week in English Catholic History in advance in single page black-and-white pdf form (perhaps inserted in the bulletin), please contact us at <>, and we will be happy to oblige, gratis

Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter © 2018.

image1 (1)        Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 9.06.47 AM

John (wearing purple tie, above) is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster (wearing golden tie, above) holds a Doctorate in Medicine from  Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in medicine.


21 thoughts on “The O Antiphons (6th Century)

  1. Each verse of the Catholic Advent hymn O Come, O Come, Emanuel (Veni, veni, Emanuel in Latin) is a poetic translation of one of the “O Antiphons” (with meter and rhyme), set to a chant.



  2. Latin version is of course a “Catholic Advent hymn” but “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel ” is a translation by the Anglican John Mason Neale (or T. A. Lacey, in the English Hymnal).


    • There actually are a couple translations into English that appear in various Catholic hymnals published here in the States. Just for beginners, some hymnals translate the refrain as

      Rejoice, rejoice, Emanuel
      Shall come to thee, O Israel

      while others translate it as

      Rejoice, rejoice, O Israel!
      To thee shall come Emanuel.

      and that’s not even looking at how they render the verses.



      • Have never seen “Emmanuel” with one “m” in any translation, and here we have it appearing in two different ones!


    • Dear Tom B,
      It exists; it just isn’t public yet. I admit that my own patience has been tested by the seemingly interminable process of Vatican approval for Divine Worship: The Office; however, we have it on good authority that provides an admirable approximation of how the official Ordinariate form of the Office will appear once the book emerges from the dark cramped chambers of examination in Rome into the broad sunlit uplands of congregational and family use.

      I trust that its publication will be very profitable for the expansion of the Ordinariates, providing its lay members an easy and fully-approved and standardised communal act of worship that can be performed by laity who cannot yet support a priest or more to perform Divine Worship: The Mass on a weekly basis.

      This brings up another interesting question I do not know the answer to: Is there a Divine Worship form of communion service? I understand they have been falling out of favour with the more traditionally-minded: in preference for recitation of the Office.

      In Christ by His Grace,

      Dr. Lerner


      • Yeah, that’s the line we’ve been getting for years. Along with “it’ll be published later this year” (repeated each year). LOL.

        “Fool me once, shame on… shame on you… fool me twice… I can’t get fooled again” — George W. Bush

        Liked by 1 person

      • I understand Australia seems to have unleashed their own brand of strategery on the situation with their “Ordo”.


      • I’ve got my copy!! It is very easy to use. The Ordo includes the Collects and antiphons, and the way the Scriptures are distributed is much more as we were used to as Anglicans – and not ‘bitty’. It also seems to be identical to that on the wonderful online American website for those saying the Ordinariate Office. As a layman here in the UK I don’t feel obliged to use the Customary, and all I need to remember is to revert to the UK calendar where Australia keeps a different feast, or if a Solemnity is kept on a different day (eg Corpus Christi here is kept on the Sunday). I assume that the form in the Australian book is that which is being scrutinised in the Vatican, and is therefore substantially what will be finally authorised. Our Australian friends deserve a vote of thanks for a very useful aid. It must have taken a lot of hard work by the compiler(s).


  3. Thank you for lovely articles, and especially your recent one on the O antiphonas. I was very pleased you included the eighth antiphon, Virgo Virginum,so appropriate as part of our Anglo Catholic patrimony. One small point, I believe that O Sapientia should begin on December16 ending with O Virgo Virginum on December 23. Please check it out. Many thanks for your excellent work. Larry Lewis, London, Ontario,Canada.


    • Dear Mr. Lewis,
      That does not accord with our research, but I would be very interested if you have a resource that differs. What prayerbook are you using? Our dating is based upon the unofficial office at .
      May God bless you now and always.
      In Christ by His Grace,

      Dr. Lerner


      • The “Calendar” printed in the 1962 Canadian BCP puts “O Sapientia: an ancient Advent anthem” on December 16.


      • Dr Lerner, Mr Lewis may have another answer for you, but I can state that my Anglican Breviary has the O Antiphons beginning 16 December with O Sapientia and ending 23 December with O Virgo Virginum. This is in accord with the traditional practice of using the antiphons through the 23rd, ending prior to Christmas Eve. I can only assume the Ordinariates have shifted them by a day to match the antiphon usage to the Latin Rite.


      • The English translation of ordinary form of the Liturgy of the Hours has seven (7) “O Antiphons” for the Magnificat as follows.

        17 December: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong and tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

        18 December: “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 your mighty hand and set us free.”

        19 December: “O flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”

        20 December: “O key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.”

        21 December: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, son of justice; come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

        22 December: “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”

        23 December: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.”

        The antiphon for First Vespers of Christmas (24 December) is NOT an “O Antiphon.” Here it is: “When the sun rises in the morning sky, you will see the King of Kings coming forth from the Father like a radiant bridegroom from the bridal chamber.”

        But what’s curious about the discussion of “O Virgo Virginum” is that it does not fit into the pattern of the rest of the “O Antiphons,” all of which address our Lord by various titles rather than the virgin mother. I’m guessing that “O Virgo Virginum” was a corruption that arose somewhere along the way, and that the present ordinary form of the Liturgy of the Hours is faithful to the original.



  4. Dear Dr. Lerner,
    Thank you for your reply regarding the day when the first O Antiphon, O Sapientia, begins and the last and eighth one, O Virgo Virginum ends. I checked the Book of Common Prayer, Canada, published for the Anglican Church of Canada in 1959 and in the Calendar it lists for December: O Sapientia (p.xii).
    When there are only seven Antiphons, they begin on Vespers for December 17 and end on December 23. Vespers for December 24 is the First Vespers of Christmas, no longer Advent. Although I haven’t definitively verefied it, I believe the Antiphon is Hodie Christus Natus Est.
    Wishing you aVery Merry Christmas and all that is good in the New Year.
    Sincerely In Christ Jesus,
    Larry C. Lewis
    London ON Canada


  5. Awfully late, but I’ve just now received my copy of Oxford’s old Monastic Diurnal. Regarding what it calls “The Great Antiphons”, it notes on page 172: “In the ancient English Use the Great Antiphons begin on Dec. 16, the Ant. on Dec. 23 being O Virgo Virginum.” This still doesn’t explain why the Divine Worship Missal shifted all the antiphons by one day, I’m afraid.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s