The Christmas Countdown – Catholic Style!

By: Deacon Marques Silva

This time of year every kid, and dare I say a good number of adults, are eagerly counting down the days to Christmas. As a child, my family had one of those great window Advent calendars where you opened a window daily to reveal a thought or picture inside. It helped us to track where we were in the Advent season. The Church does the same thing through the liturgy and it starts tomorrow on December 17.

The church’s countdown system is called the “O Antiphons.” Its name is derived from the antiphon that is prayed before the Magnificat during Vespers for the seven days prior to the Solemnity of the Nativity. We know that the O Antiphons have been around since at least the fifth century because Boethius made a reference to them. [1] During the eighth century they were woven into various liturgical celebrations in Rome. “Each antiphon has a two-fold purpose. The first is to recount a title of the Lord while the second recounts a prophecy of the Messiah.” [2] Our own Fr. William Saunders, Pastor of Our Lady of Hope wrote an excellent article providing a full history and explanation at the Catholic Education Resource Center.

advent wreathThis countdown not only intensifies our eager expectation for the Solemnity of the Nativity, but should also encourage us to intensify our efforts to “make straight the highway” to our hearts for Jesus our King. We can redouble our efforts to prepare for this solemnity by:

  • Cultivating some time for silence and stilling our hearts and minds: Zephaniah 1:7 and Psalm 46:10.
  • Adopting or renewing an attitude of gratitude: Psalms 100:4 and 107:1.
  • Using the titles to praise Him and invoke His presence in our daily lives: Psalm 22:3.

To assist, here are a few thoughts to help focus our meditation during the countdown to Christmas:

December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), direct my life and all my actions by your divine and benevolent providence. Teach me and show me your ways that I may know your salvation.

December 18: O Adonai (O God of the Mountain/Mighty Lord), reveal your presence before those who do not know you “that they may see your mighty deeds. As you have used us to show them your holiness, so now use them to show us your glory. Thus they will know, as we know, that there is no God but you. Give new signs and work new wonders; show forth the splendor of your right hand and arm” (Sirach 36:4-6).

December 19: O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), take root in my heart and strengthen me that I may bear good fruit “to the praise of your glory” (Ephesian 1:6). And when I stray, call to my mind your words that “apart from me I can do nothing” (John 15:5).

December 20: O Clavis David (Key of David), you who opened the gates of heaven and release to your people Israel, unshackle me from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:18). Unlock my heart that I may live as a “son in the Son” (1 John 3:1) and free me to live (2 Corinthians 3:17) as a child of the light (1 Thessalonians 5:5).

December 21: O Oriens (Radiant Dawn/Morning Star), enlighten my mind and inflame my heart with knowledge and love of you. Shine into the deepest recesses of my heart to call me out of darkness into your marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of All Nations), cause those who are in authority to lead and govern us with equity and justice. Rule over my heart and make me a “good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

December 23: O Emmanuel (O God with us), accompany me from time into eternity. May I welcome St. Paul’s admonition to, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

And remember to take the first letter of each title (ERO CRAS) to hear the Lord say, Tomorrow I will come!

[1] Saunders, Rev. William. “What are the ‘O Antiphons?’” Catholic Education Resource Center. 2003. Accessed December 16, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

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