The “O” Antiphons, a family-enriching tradition for Advent

As most people begin the Christmas celebrations after thanksgiving, Catholics are called to prepare for the coming of Jesus into their hearts and homes.

The ancient monastic tradition of chanting or reciting the “O Antiphons” during the week leading up to Christmas is a great means to help the Catholic family do just that.

“It is a wonderful tradition for all Catholics,” said Sister Maria-Walburga Schortemeyer, novice mistress and farm manager in the Abbey of St. Walburga in Colorado. “The Church gives us these antiphons as a great tool to help us enter into the longing for God to come.”

They are sung or recited in every Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours from Dec. 17 to the 23, before and after the Magnificat.

Sister Walburga recommends families to take the monastic practice into their homes.

She grew up being exposed to Benedictine monasticism, which played a key role in her vocation. Her family used to pray the Divine Office daily.

“Even if you don’t pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day, you could have a little ceremony at home [to incorporate this tradition],” Sister Walburga said. “You can solemnly pray the Magnificat with the antiphon sung, light a candle and have an icon of our Blessed Mother.”

Such practices deeply enrich Catholic families and prepare them to welcome our Savior by meditating on the prophetic titles given to Jesus from the Old Testament. It’s meant to help Christians reflect on who the child to be born really is.

They also “exercise” the Christian desire for him by the repeating supplication, “O come…”

Sister Walburga has helped us explore each antiphon to help the faithful reflect on their deep meaning.

Dec. 17: O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.

This antiphon, along with the last one, contain the pivotal names being evoked. This verse takes us to the beginning, to Creation, where the Word was already with God and was God. It is this God, powerful and tender, the one who is to become man and teach us.

Dec. 18: O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

This verse puts us in the tradition of our Jewish roots. The leader of the house of Israel is to be born. God chose the people of Israel to give man a way of being the people of God. Now he will reveal himself fully in the person of Jesus, setting us free.

Dec. 19: O Root of Jesse, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

God becoming man is a historical event. He is born into a specific family, people and genealogy. He is not outside of humanity but is part of it. Yet, even though he is to be born into a people, all of humanity will cry out for him.

Dec. 20: O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in the darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

David was not a perfect king, he was a sinner. Yet, the Messiah will come from his house. He will have power over death and the power to free the people enslaved to the darkness of sin.

Dec. 21: O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in the darkness and the shadow of death.

The Lord that is to come will bring joy and hope to those who are in darkness. As expressed in the Book of Malachi: “The sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go forth leaping [joyfully] like calves from the stall.”

Dec. 22: O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

The one who formed man will come to him as a child. He will be the king of all the nations because every human heart already longs for him without knowing. Jesus will be the cornerstone in which humanity is united: Jews and gentiles.

Dec. 23: O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

This antiphon encompasses various other antiphons. It proclaims the identity of Jesus – “God with us” –  the God who has pitched his tent among man by taking on his human flesh. The child is the fulfillment of all revelation.

COMING UP: Earthly stewardship is a Christian virtue

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Earthly stewardship is a Christian virtue

School’s environmental care efforts reap rewards for people, planet, pocket-book

Roxanne King

In Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato si, subtitled “On Care for Our Common Home,” the Holy Father calls all people to an “ecological conversion,” whereby one’s encounter with Jesus Christ is reflected in one’s relationship with the Earth.

“Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience,” the pope writes. Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, he asserts, “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.”

Erin Hensley, 35, parent leader of Shrine of St. Anne School’s student Green Team, took to heart Pope Francis’ words and reinstituted recycling at the Arvada school last year. Those efforts decreased the school’s landfill waste by 40 percent weekly and saved it $3,000 annually. The project also won a $1,000 Green Up Your School grant, which the Green Team is using this year to expand recycling in the classroom and in the lunchroom.

For Earth Day, the Green Team took their efforts into the wider community by stationing themselves at the Arvada Chick-fil-A on April 21 to urge customers to recycle their take-out containers.

To help foster environmental stewardship, Hensley shared tips with the Denver Catholic on how to start or expand one’s own sustainability efforts in schools and at home.

DC: How is recycling going at St. Anne’s this school year?

Hensley: It’s going great! One of the things we’re doing now in the lunchroom is to encourage students not to throw their food away. We learned that 16 percent of our waste (90-100 pounds weekly) is perfectly good, untouched, still packaged food items. If they haven’t touched their sandwich or fruit or treat, students can put it in a Giving Basket and kids who forget their lunch can help themselves to it. What’s left is refrigerated and at the end of the week donated to Arvada’s Blessing Box for the homeless.

The Giving Basket has a Scripture passage, John 6:12: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments so nothing is lost.’” Packaged food has become such a convenience and easy to come by that we’ve lost touch with how much is thrown out; years ago that would have been unheard of. This isn’t just common sense, but a Christian practice that needs to be embodied.

DC: Tell me about your reusable water bottle campaign.

Hensley: Of the 300 students at St. Anne’s only 10 percent typically bring their reusable water bottles to lunch, a lot of kids leave them at their desk and use singe-use containers at lunch. The Green Team had a contest and gave tickets to students who used their reusable bottles in the lunchroom. At the end of two weeks we had a drawing for prizes.

Erin Hensley (left) with students from Shrine of St. Anne Catholic School set up camp at the Arvada Chick-Fil-A April 21 to encourage people to recycle more. (Photo provided)

Making that small switch from disposable to reusable containers helps to both reduce our waste and to reuse. We also did away with little wax cups that were used for kids who didn’t have a drink container at lunch. Those cups would go into the trash. If kids forget to bring a drink, they can get one from the water fountain. It’s a “hard” lesson that isn’t too hard!

DC: What are some small steps families and schools can take to reduce, reuse and recycle?

Hensley: Parents can make sure kids have a way to bring leftovers home. I’m a big fan of Tupperware. If you use plastic sandwich bags, switch to reusable containers. Also, reuse disposable cutlery, which can’t be recycled. Limit disposable beverage containers to occasional—not daily or weekly—use. And when making such purchases, keep in mind that fruit juice pouches are not easily recyclable, but juice boxes are. Keep in mind that convenience comes at a cost: both financially and for our planet.

Everyone can read a book to kids about nature or conservation. The Earth Day 2018 message is: “End plastic pollution.” [One sobering fact from the World Economic Forum Report: if plastic production isn’t curbed, plastic pollution will outweigh fish pound for pound by 2050.] Remember to take reusable bags when you shop, and to reuse and recycle plastic bags and wrap. Also, refuse freebies and unwanted items from vendors. The stress balls, wristbands, pens and plastic junk are only destined for the dump!

Schools can install a Giving Basket. A teacher or volunteer can take photos of all the untouched food kids throwaway and get that info home to parents. Schools can install paper reuse bins to promote double-side paper use and to repurpose paper. We tied that in with an Earth Art contest, which will be held at Shrine of St. Anne Church. The parishioners will vote on the most visually appealing or informative entry.

We have fun with our projects! Kids are excited to be able to participate and feel like they are making a difference helping the Earth by saving trees and by keeping our planet clean and safe for all life.

Earth Day Tips
Visit: www.earthday.org
Nonprofit Recycling Websites
Colorado Association for Recycling: www.cafr.org
Eco-cycle: www.ecocycle.org