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The Great O Antiphons, an Advent tradition

The season of Advent is full of mystery and anticipation. During these weeks, the Church’s liturgy leads the faithful patiently, yet deliberately, through the prophecies of the Old Testament, particularly the prophet Isaiah, to the silence and beauty of the Nativity. Our incarnate Lord, lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, is the fulfillment of all hope, and these last days of Advent are ushered in by the great O Antiphons –– seven antiphons, or short chants, that are sung at the beginning of the Magnificat each evening at Vespers (Evening Prayer) from December 17 through December 23.

The O Antiphons have been chanted in the Church since at least the 8th century. There are many levels to the symbolism and foreshadowing of the antiphons. Individually, they each speak on their own, addressing our Lord by a different title or name given to him in Old Testament prophecies, imploring him to come and save his people. These antiphons are called the “O Antiphons” because each chant begins with great cry, “O …” :

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