What Are The O Antiphons? – Learning About A Catholic Advent Tradition

The O Antiphons are rich with meaning and make a truly wonderful Catholic tradition! Before you get overwhelmed, I want to start by saying that they do not need any kind of craft or manipulative to participate- you can simply pray and sing them. 🙂

I’m going to put the roots of them in a nutshell for you (as much as I can).

Why they are called the “O Antiphons”?all about the o antiphons

Each night for the octave (8 days) before Christmas, we ask Christ to come, and call him by a different name. Each of these names starts with “O”, such as “O Come O Come Emmanuel”. An antiphon is a liturgical composition, and they are traditionally sung. Therefore, they are called the O Antiphons.

When do the O Antiphons start?

The O Antiphons start on Dec 17 and run through Dec 24. This time is known as the “second part of Advent” or “The Golden Nights.” The O Antiphons are taken from the Liturgy of the Hours (specifically, evening prayers, or “vespers”). So because they are traditionally said in the evening, there is not one for Dec 24 because the evening on Christmas Eve is already the vigil of Christmas, so we are no longer waiting.

What do the O Antiphons mean?

The O Antiphons get across 2 messages: each one highlights a different title for the Messiah (listed below), and each one refers to the prophecy of the Messiah from Isaiah.

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  • Dec 17: O Sapientia (Wisdom)
  • Dec 18: O Adonai (Lord and Ruler)
  • Dec 19: O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
  • Dec 20: O Clavis David (Key of David)
  • Dec 21: O Oriens (Dawn of the East)
  • Dec 22: O Rex Gentium (King of the Gentiles)
  • Dec 23: O Emmanuel (God With Us)

What’s with the “ERO CRAS”?

If you take the first letter of each name and write them backwards, you get “ERO CRAS.” This means “Tomorrow, I will Come” in Latin. So that’s why you see that written in a lot of places with the O Antiphons.

Are the O Antiophons the same as a Jesse Tree? 

The O Antiphons can line up with the last seven Jesse Tree ornaments, although they don’t in all versions. It might be a good idea too seek out an actually Catholic version of these if you want them to line up. Check my O Antiphon resource page for Catholic versions of these.

To find a list of O Antiphon crafts, activities, coloring pages, printables, and prayers, check out my O Antiphon resource page.

Also, you can find all of my Advent and Christmas resources for Catholic families here.


  1. Arlene@Nanaland says

    Very interesting Lacy! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Tracy Bua Smith says

    Love this Lacy and have learned so much through your O Antiphon posts! I linked back to your post here and your Advent Notebook on my post about the O Antiphon lapbook my kids and I made! Here’s the link 🙂 http://asliceofsmithlife.blogspot.com/2014/12/o-antiphons-lapbook-2014.html

  3. Thanks for the info! We just started our O Antiphons. I have never done a Jesse tree before so we are really enjoying our Advent Adventure this year with Holy Heroes.