The Great O Antiphons – O Oriens

The Great O Antiphons were traditionally sung before and after the Magnificat at Evensong starting on December 17.They are most familiar to us as they were paraphrased as the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The reflections are a gift from the Reverend Canon Leonel L. Mitchell, Th.D. He is the retired professor of liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James, South Bend, IN.

O Oriens – December 21
O Dayspring, Brightness of the Light Eternal, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

The image of light shining in darkness pervades not only Advent liturgy and hymnody, but that of Christmas and Epiphany as well. The last verses of the Song of Zechariah spring instantly to mind, “The dawn (or dayspring) from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell and darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Dr. William Storey, Professor Emeritus of Medieval Liturgy at Notre Dame, tells me that these O antiphons were originally sung with the Benedictus at the morning office before they were moved to Vespers and the Magnificat. This makes the emphasis even stronger. We are here in the pre-dawn, awaiting the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, to illumine not only the landscape but our lives. “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”