The O Antiphons in the Golden Legend
"Augustine says: 'The great physician came when throughout the world mankind lay like a great invalid.' Hence the Church, ini the seven antiphons that are sung before the Lord's birthday, shows the multiplicity of our ills and for each of them begs a remedy of the physician. Before the Son of God came in the flesh, we were ignorant or blind, liable to eternal punishment, slaves of the devil, shackled with sinful habits, enveloped in darkness, exiles driven from our true country. Therefore we had need of a teacher, a redeemer, a liberator, an emancipator, an enlightener and a saviour. Because we were ignorant and needed to be taught by him, we call out in the first antiphon: 'O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly. Come and teach us the way of prudence!' Yet it would be of little profit if we were taught but not redeemed, so we ask to be redeemed by him when we cry to God in the second antiphon: 'O Adonai and leader of the house of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the flames of the burning bush, and on Sinai gave him the Law. Come, stretch out your arm and redeem us.' And what good would it do if we were instructed and redeemed, if after redemption we were still held captive? Therefore we pray to be set free, when we plead in the third antiphon: 'O Root of Jesse, you are raised as a banner to the peoples. Before you kings shall remain silent, with you all nations will plead for help. Come to set us free, do not delay!' Yet of what use would it be to captives if, being redeemed and given their freedom, their shackles were still not stricken from them so that they could be under their own control and go freely wherever they wished? So it would do us little good if he redeemed and freed us but left us in chains. Therefore in the fourth antiphon we pray to be delivered of all the bonds of sin: 'O Key of David, you open and no one closes, you close and no one opens. Come, and from the prison house release man enchained and sitting in the shadow of death!' But because the eyes of those who have been in prison for a long time grow dim and they no longer see clearly, even after we are set free from prison, we still have to have our eyes opened to the light, so that we may see where we ought to go. Therefore in the fifth antiphon we pray: 'O rising Dawn, splendour of light eternal and sun of justice! Come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!' And if we were taught, redeemed, freed from enemies and enlightened, how would it benefit us unless we were to be saved? So in the next two antiphons we beg for the gift of salvation, saying: 'O King of Gentiles, for whom they long, O Headstone who make the two one! Come and save man, whom you formed out of the slime of the earth.' And likewise, 'O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, awaited by the nations and their saviour! Come and save us, O Lord our God!' So first we pray for the salvation of the pagans, saying, 'O King of Gentiles', and then we pray for the salvation of the Jews to whom God gave the Law."
Read in reverse order, from the 23rd to the 17th of December, the initials of the Latin names by which we call upon Christ read as ERO CRAS, 'I will be tomorrow' and it is wonderful to have this assurance. After seven days of pleading for the great physician to visit and redeem us, he promises that He will come to us 'tomorrow', that is the Eve of Christmas, the night which in German is simply called the Holy Night. Let us keep this in mind, even as we continue in the next week to contemplate each of the individual antiphons, taking them a day at a time, in the order given us by Holy Mother Church and in her Sacred Liturgy.
The illumination above is of Bl Jacobus de Voragine preaching. It is taken from a 14th-century French manuscript of the Golden Legend.