By Haley Scharf
If you are unfamiliar with the Advent tradition of O Antiphons prayers, you’re in for a treat. They are an ancient monastic tradition (dating to at least the 8th century A.D.) that I knew nothing about a few years ago. But once I learned about them, they quickly became one of my very favorite Advent practices.
The O Antiphons are short prayers traditionally used during evening prayer on December 17 to 23, the last seven days of Advent. Each one begins with a name of Jesus found in Isaiah’s prophecies and ends with a request for him to come and fully bring to life the promises embedded in those names. Even if you think you’ve never heard of these prayers, if you know the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel you’re off to a good start because the lyrics are based on the text of the O Antiphon prayers. Using them can be as simple as reciting the prayer and singing the corresponding verse at the dinner table or during individual time in the Word and prayer. You could look up the Isaiah references and reflect on those as well. Inserting the prayers into the Book of Common Prayer evening prayer service would be the closest to how they were originally used, and that is a wonderful practice, too.
If you are like me and have trouble keeping up with a daily Advent devotional or Jesse Tree, the O Antiphons are great because even if you don’t get anything started during the first half of Advent you’re not behind. They are short and simple to use but deeply profound — a wonderful way to build anticipation for Christmas during the week beforehand. A friend recently mentioned that she is planning to stretch out each O Antiphon over several days so it fills the entire season and can be her primary Advent devotional practice.
Especially if you have young children, you could purchase a set of wooden ornaments from an Etsy shop for $20 or download paper ornaments. (I like to send things like this to my local print shop to be printed on shiny cardstock so they look great and last.) My family enjoys putting up an ornament after we say the daily prayer and sing the verse, but you certainly don’t need to have them to incorporate these beautiful prayers into your life during Advent. You can find a printable copy of the prayers here that can be cut and stapled into a small booklet.
For me, the O Antiphons are always a highlight of the Advent season, so if they sound appealing to you I’d encourage you to give them a try. I think you would find them a powerful way of leading you into worship as we transition from Advent to Christmas and worship our King who has come and will come again.