Advent- O Antiphons Series


Christmas can be so all consuming with little time to refocus and recentre ourselves on what God might be wanting to teach us about himself. Every year I’m blown away by the incredible mystery of the Incarnation- God becoming human in Jesus Christ. As I hear those familiar readings and sing those familiar carols I often resolve to set aside some time to ponder some more about what I can learn about God by meditating on this great mystery.

Do you feel the same? If you do please join me as I reflect on the Incarnation.

I will be blogging a series of study reflections on the Advent Antiphons, often referred to as ‘The Great “O”s.’

Antiphons are essentially phrases used to emphasis a particular idea. They are a part of liturgy within a church service. They can often seem quite convoluted or confusing if you are used to a more straight-talking style of worship, but, rest assured, they are steeped in scripture!

You’ll probably recognise them from a favourite carol of mine.

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 Morning Star

O Rex Gentium O King of the Nations

O Emmanuel

The context:

Within the Church of England’s Evening Prayer, each day a different antiphon is used as a refrain to the Magnificat.

The Magnificat, based on Mary’s song in Luke 1, along with the antiphon refrains for a Tuesday evening.

The dot () signifies a pause.


Refrain: You have mercy on those who fear you,
from generation to generation.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; 
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed; 
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his name.

He has mercy on those who fear him, 
from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm 
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,

Casting down the mighty from their thrones 
and lifting up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things 
and sent the rich away empty.

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, 
to remember his promise of mercy,

The promise made to our ancestors, 
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.

Refrain: You have mercy on those who fear you,
from generation to generation.


The ‘O’ antiphons frame the Magnificat in the same way. They draw on and are used to interpret the themes within Mary’s words for the last week of Advent.

Mary’s words evoke the memory of God’s long relations with his people, Israel. She reminds us of their ancestral father, Abraham and God’s faithfulness to him. This faithfulness is not just for that time but, along with God’s mercy, for all generations. He brought justice by lowering the mighty and raising the meek. But this justice, as seen through history, will be perfected in the son she is to bear.

These are the themes that the O Antiphons draw upon.

The structure:

Each ‘O’ Antiphon carries the same form.

O [Archetypal word] come and [verb]

The repetition of ‘O’ conveys our deep longing for God. It is something that we all long for in varying degrees. This longing in intensified during the Advent season as we look forward to Jesus coming again in glory. Our longing for Christ’s presence is described by the psalmist as being like a great thirst or hunger.

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Ps 63:1

The archetypal words are images that resonate across all human experience. They are:



Root of Jesse

Key of David

Morning Star

King of Nations

Emmanuel (God with us)

Some of these seem more obvious than others. I will explain the meaning and root of each of these on their given day. But rest assured that each of these are rooted deep in scripture and all apply across human experience both across generations and across cultures.

Then always follows a verb.

Come and teach

Come and redeem

Come and deliver

Come and lead

Come and enlighten

Come and save

What these verbs remind us is that this savour is one who is to be petitioned and will also act. God is not passive but active.

That all feels like quite enough for an introduction! I found this all quite interesting and hopefully I’m not alone.

I’d love to hear your thoughts each day so please comment below.

See you on the 17th!


*** The majority of my reading around these Antiphons has been from William Marshall’s book,  O Come Emmanuel: Devotional Study of the Advent Antiphons. It’s been an invaluable resource. If you’d like to read more about the root and symbolism behind these great prayers do hunt for a copy.***


  1. JayButcher says:

    I’m excited about this – not engaged with this form of liturgy before.

    1. theologybee says:

      Neither had I! Please share your thoughts on each day 🙂

  2. […] But, on closer inspection, it draws upon the line of Mary’s Song, the Magnificat (I explain in the introduction how these Antiphons physically fit […]

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