“From December 17 to 23 the liturgy has seven antiphons which begin with O and are addressed before and after the Magnificat to the Lord King of the Advent. They are placed with the great canticle of mercy and might of the Mother of the King and they join Christ and Mary in a most beautiful way. A special rubric introduces these Major Antiphons as the office calls them….
In their magnificent yet simple beauty the Great O’s are the quintessence of the Advent liturgy. Their language bears the weight of God’s eternity and mercy. They are a poignant cry of the soul of the people of Advent; they address God by the most compelling and tender of divine names, and they always end with an intense COME, VENI. All have the same structure, the O of apostrophe, and imperative of appeal. And while the imperatives of the season are often joyous and clamorous, these last appeals to God seem to read as if the iron of our misery is in our very blood. For though even in other parts of the liturgy of the last week our optimism continues and our hope is bright, in the solemn ceremonial of the evening Magnificat we are soberly acknowledging that our dire wretchedness can be remedied only by omnipotent mercifulness.
Only one of the Great O’s is read each day of our approach to Christmas. The effect of this is noticeable, for we defintiely feel a growing tensity as each evening passes. We seem to be making a forward step and to be covering infinite distances from eternity to Bethlehem. There is a climatic order in these antiphons. In the first, O Sapientia, we take a backward flight into the recesses of eternity to address Wisdom, the Word of God. In the second, O Adonai, we have leaped from eternity to the time of Moses and the Law of Moses (about 1400 B.C.). In the third, O Radix Jesse, we have come to the time when God was preparing the line of David (about 1100 B.C.). In the fourth, O Clavis David, we have come to the year 1000. In the fifth, O Oriens we see that the line of David is elevated so that the peoples may look on a rising star in the east, and hence in the sixth, O Rex Gentium, we know that He is king of all the world of man. This brings us to the evening before the vigil, and before coming to the town limits of Bethlehem, we salute Him with the last Great O, O Emmanuel, God-with-us. We have traveled a long distance and have waited long, but at Bethlehem we are to find the Little One who is Emmanuel, God of God and Light of Light, and yet God with us.” (He Cometh by William J. McGarry, S.J. –HT to Jennifer Gregory Miller)
Printable O Antiphon coloring pages: