“I Will Be There Tomorrow” — By Fr. Reginald, O.P.
Blessed Advent, dear friends! As you know, the season of Advent is a time of preparation for the Lord’s arrival. It is a time to reflect on the great mystery of God’s breaking into human history to heal the wounds of our sin and foolishness and to set us on the path back to his heart. It is a time to reflect on our great need for the Lord, for his wisdom, and his mercy.
The Church provides a wonderful way of making this preparation in the ancient series of prayers known as the “O Antiphons.” These are prayed during the Liturgy of the Hours on the last few days of Advent, leading up to Christmas Eve. You are probably familiar with the hymn, “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” which is based on these antiphons. As beloved as that tune is, I would encourage you to also listen to the Gregorian chant version. (You can easily find it on YouTube.) There is a certain meditative and mysterious longing in the ancient chant, which you can feel even if you are not familiar with the Latin words of the prayers. The texts of the antiphons are from the messianic prophecies of Isaiah. Rather than reproduce them all here (you can look them up), I would like to offer a brief summary and reflection on each of them:
Dec. 17: O Sapientia — O Wisdom. This prayer reminds us that the wisdom we need is greater than human wisdom. Jesus Christ is the Wisdom that “cometh from the mouth of the most high.”
Dec. 18: O Adonai — O Lord. In this prayer we remember the Lord’s providential care for His people, as shown in His appearing to Moses in the burning bush.
Dec. 19: O Radix Jesse — O Root of Jesse. Here we remember the Lord’s promise to give us a King who will silence any unjust claims made by earthly powers.
Dec. 20: O Clavis David — O Key of David. The “Key” here is the Lord’s authority that will lock up the powers of darkness and set free those who were imprisoned by sin.
Dec. 21: O Oriens — O Radiant Dawn. Christ is the Rising Sun, who will bring His light to “those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”
Dec. 22: O Rex Gentium — O King of the Nations. Christ comes to break down the walls of hatred and unite all peoples in the bond of charity.
Dec. 23: O Emmanuel — O God-With-Us. This prayer, prayed on the day before Christmas Eve, sums up the mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation. In Jesus Christ, God has come to be with His people.
There is one more thing I would like to point out about the O Antiphons because it’s totally cool: Whether by design or happy coincidence (the liturgical historians disagree about this), the series turns out to be a kind of acrostic poem. That is, if you take the first letter after the O of each Latin prayer, starting on the 23rd and going back to the 17th, it forms the words “ero cras” meaning “I will be there tomorrow.” It is as if the Lord is assuring us that, after all our waiting and longing and praying, that He is indeed very, very near.
This Advent, in the midst of all our shopping and cooking and travelling, let us find some quiet time to pray and reflect on the Lord’s coming and on His presence and actions in our lives. The venerable tradition of praying the O Antiphons can help us do that.