Did you know that Advent has a similar period of intensification one week before the Feast of the Nativity? Indeed it does! While I am not sure if the final week of Advent has even been known as “Deep Advent,” the parallels are close enough to justify using the phrase. Just as children throughout America enter a period of heightened anticipation as the presents under the tree begin to pile up, so we too add an additional fervor to our devotion as we approach our Lord’s birthday.
On December 17, seven days before Christmas Eve, Deep Advent begins. That would be today!
According to ancient custom, one way to mark Deep Advent in our daily devotion is in a special embellishment to the Daily Office. In the final seven days prior to Christmas Eve, the Magnificat, the traditional Gospel Canticle of Evening Prayer, is festooned with special antiphons known as the “O Antiphons.” Each antiphon takes an aspect of the awaited Messiah’s character from the Old Testament prophecies about him, and prays for salvation on the theme. Below is the official translation from Latin according to the Church of England.
17 December – O Sapientia, O Wisdom
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other mightily, and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. (cf Ecclesiasticus 24.3; Wisdom 8.1)
18 December – O Adonai, O Lord
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm. (cf Exodus 3.2; 24.12)
19 December – O Radix Jesse, O Root of Jesse
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer. (cf Isaiah 11.10; 45.14; 52.15; Romans 15.12)
20 December – O Clavis David, O Key of David
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. (cf Isaiah 22.22; 42.7)
21 December – O Oriens, O Eastern (Morning) Star
O Morning Star, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. (cf Malachi 4.2)
22 December – O Rex Gentium, O King of the Nations
O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay. (cf Isaiah 28.16; Ephesians 2.14)
23 December – O Emmanuel, O God-With-Us
O Emmanuel, our King and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God. (cf Isaiah 7.14)
And one last bit of the fun is that, should one start with the last title and take the first letter of each one (after the ‘O’ itself) - Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia - the Latin words ero cras are formed, which can be roughly translated as, “Tomorrow, I will come.” Whether this is purposeful on the part of the Benedictine monks in the early days of the antiphons or just a happy, clever gift of Providence is much debated.
As you prepare for the Feast of the Nativity, I encourage you to incorporate these beautiful prayers into your daily devotion, whether you pray the Daily Office from theBook of Common Prayer or not. As we remember how the two-fold nature of this season directs us to prepare for our Lord’s return, let us together pray with eager joy: “Come, Lord Jesus!”