An antiphon (Greek ἀντίφωνον, ἀντί “opposite” + φωνή “voice”) in Christian music is a “responsory” by a congregation. Within Anglican custom, the O Antiphons were traditionally used with the Magnificat at Evening Prayer between 17-23 December (and they appear in the Book of Common Prayer’s church calendar). Through these prayers Christians down the centuries have prayed for Christ to return, addressing Jesus by different, ancient titles. They are complemented by the song O Come All Ye Faithful, traditionally sung at the close of a Christmas Eve church service, which invites all people to adore the Lord.
Each antiphon is one of Christ’s attributes mentioned in Scripture. They are:
- December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
- December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
- December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
- December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
- December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
- December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
- December 23: O Emmanuel (O God is with Us)
The hymn ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’ (in Latin, Veni Emmanuel) is a lyrical paraphrase of these antiphons. The first letters of the titles taken backwards form a Latin acrostic of “Ero Cras” which translates to “Tomorrow, I will be there”, mirroring the theme of the antiphons.