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The Last Week of Advent
THE LAST WEEK OF ADVENT
Advent has two quite distinct stages, each with its own special focus. From the first Sunday until December 16, the liturgy of Advent expresses the watchfulness of God’s people looking forward to the time when “the salvation promised us will be ours when Christ our Lord will come again in his glory”. (Preface of Advent I)
From December 17 until the Christmas vigil, the prayers and readings for Mass prepare us more directly to celebrate Christ’s birth. This is the time for singing Christmas carols, when they will enhance the liturgical themes of the season.
A distinctive feature of the Liturgy of the Hours in this week preceding Christmas are the antiphons sung at Vespers (evening prayer) before and after the recitation of the Magnificat. These antiphons, usually referred to as the "O Antiphons" because they each begin with the exclamation "O", are also used as the Gospel Acclamations at Masses during the week.
The antiphons were composed in the seventh or eighth century when monks put together texts from the Old Testament which looked forward to the coming of our salvation. They form a rich mosaic of scriptural images and became very popular in the Middle Ages. While the monastic choirs sang the antiphons the great bells of the church were rung. Today the O Antiphons are most familiar to us in the hymn "O come, O come Emmanuel".
Each O Antiphon begins with an invocation of the expected Messiah, followed by praise of him under one of his particular titles. Each of them ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes more urgent.
Jesus is invoked by various titles, mainly taken from the prophet Isaiah. The seven titles are Wisdom, Ruler of Israel, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Emmanuel, King of all Nations and Radiant Dawn.
Come, Wisdom of God Most High, guiding creation with power and love:
teach us to walk in the paths of knowledge!
Come, Leader of ancient Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
rescue us with your mighty power!
Come, Flower of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people:
save us without delay!
December 20thCome, Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal kingdom:
free the prisoners of darkness!
Come, Emmanuel, God’s presence among us, our King, our Judge:
save us, Lord our God!
December 22nd and 23rd
Come, King of all nations, source of your Church’s unity and faith:
save all people, your own creation!
Come, Radiant Dawn, splendour of eternal light, sun of justice:
shine on those lost in the darkness of death!
Why not join with the Prayer of the Church each evening and reflect on these words preparing for Christmas day by day.