The O Antiphons

The O Antiphons form a part of evening prayer during the Octave before Christmas. Almost everyone, even if he or she doesn’t pray them in their traditional form, has some familiarity with them, since they appear in a modified form in the popular Advent hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Each of the seven antiphons highlights a different title for the Messiah, each refers to a prophesy of Isaiah and each contains a different petition. (You can find the O Antiphons in their traditional form, with scriptural texts, here.)

In different Advent retreat settings, I’ve encouraged retreatants to write their own O Antiphons. We live in a different time and place than when the “O” antiphons were composed. In addition, each of us has our own needs and our own issues with God. Writing our own “O” antiphons gives expression to: Who is God for me? How do I name God? And what are my deepest needs? How do I need God to come to me.

I engaged in this prayer exercise myself during an Advent Week of Directed Prayer several years ago. Both the writing of the antiphons and the reflection surrounding the writing was a special time between me and God. Although they are personal to my own particular needs, I share a couple with the hope that it might prompt your own reflection.

O Heart of my Heart,
You know my desire to be one with you;
you gave it to me.
Come, help me remove the faces of my self-image
that separate me from you.

O Source of Life,
I sometimes look elsewhere for security,
and grow anxious about my needs.
Come, help me to see that in you alone
lies my security and protection.

O Patient Lord,
You allow me to take my own steps,
never forcing me along the way.
Come, help me be patient with my humanness,
and remind me of your presence when I falter.

During an evening session of one Advent weekend retreat, the retreatants each wrote one antiphon, which we all then shared during evening prayer, lighting a candle as each one was recited. If you were to write one antiphon to God, what would you say?

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