Tuesday, December 16, 2008

O Antiphons

Tomorrow begins the "O" Antiphons. These are antiphons in the Church's liturgy dating from the seventh century that invoke God. Using seven different names from our Salvation History in the Old Testament, each antiphon begins with the invocation "O" and impatiently begging God to come and save His people.

With all the wonderful feasts and traditions in Advent, this one is my favorite. It evokes wonderful memories when our family implemented the ideas inspired by Cooking for Christ by Florence Berger.
By the seventeenth of December, both the Church and the children become increasingly impatient for Christmas. This holy impatience has found expression in the beautiful antiphons which call Christ to come, and to come quickly. It is very natural for children to use the "O Antiphons" for their daily prayer at this time. We say them at the evening meal when the Advent wreath is lighted.

Another old custom which we revived is giving family treats. In the monasteries long years ago, the different monks furnished extra treats on these days before Christ's birthday. The gardener gave the community some of his finest dried or preserved fruits on December 19 when he called on Christ: "O Root of Jesse, come to deliver us and tarry not." The cellarer unlocked the best wine or his treat as he called: "Oh Key of David, come, and come quickly." Finally, on December 23, the abbot gave his extra gift to the brothers. Expense accounts which are still extant show how generous and extensive a list of foods were used on the abbot's "O day."

Each one in our family keeps his gift a deep, dark secret until supper time. We begin with the smallest child. Her treat may be only a graham cracker for dessert. Freddie cracked and picked some black walnuts for us. All the pounding didn't give it away because little boys are so often pounding. Ann made some Advent wreath cookies and used up all the cinnamon drops for decoration — on the cookies, her face and her fingers. Mary made a big casserole of baked beans and we couldn't quite decide whether she was treating herself or the family. Finally, it was mother's turn, and then, at last, father's turn to produce something really outstanding. At dessert time father rose from the table without a word, put on his hat and coat without a smile and left us sitting at the table with our mouths open in amazement. After five minutes which seemed like hours, he stamped back into the house — with a big bowl of snow ice cream. The squeals of delight would have pleased an abbot.
With a family of seven children, we were able to assign an O Antiphon day for each person except the two babies. Each person in turn supplied a special treat after dinner for celebration of the Great Os. Mom helped the little ones, but even our father surprised us with a treat on his day. At evening prayer time we opened up the new window of our Advent Tower and sang the corresponding verse to O Come O Come Emmanuel. It was very simple, but it made a lasting impression. I never tire hearing or singing this Advent hymn, as it just conjures all the Old Testament longing with a haunting melody.

The tradition works well in larger families. I find it enjoyable to see the interesting variety of what each person likes as their personal treat, and wants to share for everyone.

For a variation on a theme, how about serving a food that would be a reminder of the O Antiphon of the day? Since there already seems to be a glut of (fattening) sweets around the house, I'm not suggesting dessert recipes, but just a food with either minimal preparation or something that can be incorporated in the family dinner meal.

December 17
O Wisdom (O Sapienta): O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come, and teach us the way of prudence.

Symbols: Oil lamp, open book, dove (Holy Spirit).

Foods: Incorporate foods that are known to be "brain food". This list includes blueberries and tomatoes, dark chocolate and avocados, and Dr. Sears provides a whole list. But my top choice for this idea is the egg. Not only is it the perfect food, the wonder of the egg is enough to show us God's wisdom in our creation. How about serving deviled eggs? I haven't met many people who didn't enjoy them.

December 18
O Lord and Ruler (O Adonai): O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and on Mount Sinai gave him your Law. Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us.

Symbols: Burning bush, stone tablets

Foods: The symbol of the burning bush evokes hot, spicy, or flaming foods. Grilled or flame broiled, Flambé foods, or hot and spicy. How about a simple tomato salsa with a little kick served with tortilla chips?

December 19
O Root of Jesse (O Radix Jesse): O Root of Jesse, you stand for the ensign of all mankind; before you kings shall keep silence and to you all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us, and do not delay.

Symbols: flower, plant with flower, root with flowering stem

Foods: Root Vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, or yams would call to mind the Root of Jesse. Carrot and Raisin salad or twice-baked potatoes would incorporate this symbol nicely.

December 20
O Key of David (O Clavis David) O Key of David, Scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens. Come, and deliver him from the chains of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Symbols: Key, broken chains

Foods: Serve a bowl of unshelled nuts with a nutcracker. Without the "key" (nutcracker) you cannot get inside easily. Breaking the nut can be a reminder of the broken chains.

December 21
O Rising Dawn (O Oriens): O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice; Come, enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

Symbols: Sunrise, sun

Foods: Oranges or clementines have long been reminders of the sun.

December 22
O King of the Gentiles or Nations (O Rex Gentium): O King of the Gentiles, Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one. Come, and save poor man whom you fashion out of clay.

Symbols: Crown and scepter; cornerstone

Foods: There have been several crown cake ideas posted here. Something much easier would be a wreath cookie, Rice Krispie treats shaped into a wreath, or some simple butter or sugar cookies (very popular this time of year) in the shape of a wreath. Fresh green wreaths were probably the first crowns. Using the cornerstone as the main symbol, a loaf shaped food would give a visual idea of a brick or cornerstone. How about a pound cake, banana bread for dessert, or meatloaf for dinner (but spare the jokes about how hard the meatloaf is)?

December 23
O Emmanuel: O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of the nations and their Savior: Come, and save us, O Lord our God.

Symbols: Manger, Chalice and host, Crown with tablets

Foods: Considering the symbols, bread and wine would be a simple addition for the meal. Even though the people of the Old Testament didn't realize that Emmanuel was to come in the form of a baby, we do know that Jesus became man, first as a helpless infant. Think of soft "mushy" foods to serve: mashed potatoes, ice cream, pudding, rice pudding, or applesauce.

December 24
This day doesn't have an official O Antiphon in the Liturgy, because the Evening Prayer or Vespers is actually Evening Prayer I which is the beginning of Christmas. There are old traditions in some religious orders that include a final antiphon to Mary for Christmas Eve:
O Virgin of Virgins (O Virgo Virginum): O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before you was any like you, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why do you marvel at me? What you behold is a divine mystery!

Symbols: lily or fleur-de-lis.

Foods: The term virgin evokes purity, cleanliness, white. The ideas for white foods for the feast of the Immaculate Conception would be appropriate here, too. And how about clear or pure water, sparkling beverages, clear consomme?

For more information on this treasure of the Liturgy, see my earlier article The Great "O" Antiphons at O Night Divine.

O Come, O Come O Lord, Do Not Delay!!!

(Graphics taken from Family Advent Customs by Helen McLoughlin. Copyright 1954, 1979 by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, Minnesota.) Pin It


  1. This is fabulous! Thank you so much for sharing these awesome ideas!

    My 9yo had just read an article about Hanukkah in the newspaper, and wished we had a tradition of daily gift-giving like that (of course!!) I was not too encouraging of the idea -- everyone gets gifts aplently this time of year, and we really don't need yet another reason. But wait'll she hears about this!! :)

  2. Great post Jenn!

    THIS was exactly what I was thinking about last night, and actually started writing a post, but didn't have time to finish it!!! We have this same tradition in our home, and in the past the gifts are usually a combination of things, including additions to the meal. We love it!

  3. Thank you for sharing this Jenn, we will be doing this!

  4. This is a beautiful and inspiring post, Jenn! Thank you.

  5. This is great, Jenn! Thank you so much.

  6. Thank you so much, Jenn, for sharing this with us. I will be taking it to the table tonight. You have given me the connection I always look for with the meals.

  7. This is such a gift to me this morning! Thank you for sharing your ideas with us all. God Bless

  8. Fantastic! Now if I can scramble together and try to do it . . .

  9. OH, this is wonderful!! I read about O Antiphons last year but never heard of them before that and did not find anything laid out like this!! I love it!

    You did such a great job to make it easy for families to do.

    Thank you!

  10. This is wonderful, Jenn. I had thought of trying to put some ideas together and now it's all done better than I could ever imagine!

  11. I absolutely loved this post!

    As you know, I linked to it in my blog (www.catholicfoodie.com). Just yesterday I produced a short podcast episode on the O Antiphons. As a former seminarian who used to pray the Office daily, I love the O Antiphons. Not only did your post touch on the meanings of the O Antiphons, but it also brought them "down-to-earth" noting family traditions and even making meal suggestions.

    Thank you so much for this post. I will definitely mention it in the next episode of The Catholic Foodie (www.catholicfoodie.com).

  12. Fabulous! As a convert I am still learning about Catholic traditions. And, this is one I never knew exsisted. Which prompted me to google the 12 days of Christmas...and I found even more out I didn`t know. Wow. Thank goodness for you girls. There is no way I`d know what I do about Catholic celebrations (what to celebrate and how) if it weren`t for you.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and from my family as well!

  13. Hi, Catholic Cuisine! I linked to this post and shared some other free O Antiphon crafts at my own site here: