The Church has its own countdown—the O Antiphons of Advent— which begin on December 17 and conclude on Christmas Eve.
The Roman Church has been singing the “O” Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah. (from Prayers and Devotions, USCCB)
The O Antiphon Prayers
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.
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.
O Flower of Jesse’s stem, 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.
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 darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
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.
O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.
These are the keywords of the antiphons:
Wisdom, Lord, Root (Rod), Key, Dawn, King, Emmanuel
Here is an interesting curiosity regarding the O Antiphons. If one takes the first letter of the invocations in Latin—Sapientia, (Wisdom), Adonai, (Lord of Might), Radix (Root/Rod of Jesse), Clavis, (Key of David) Oriens, (Dawn/Dayspring), Rex Gentium (King of the Nations), Emmanuel, (God with Us) and reverse the order they will form the Latin phase—ERO CRAS. This phrase means” “Tomorrow, I will be,” or “Tomorrow, I will come.”
2020 Christmas Masses
Amid the continuing global pandemic, the celebration of Christmas at churches will be impacted by necessary protocols in place to help provide a safe experience for those choosing to attend Mass in-person. Occupancy restrictions inside churches and the need for a record of attendees for contact tracing information should the need arise, require parishioners to sign up for the Mass they wish to attend.
In almost all parishes, pre-registration for Christmas Mass may be done either online via its website or by calling the parish office. Procedures will be in place at the time of the Mass to confirm the registration of attendees for entrance. Registration for Christmas Masses is already open at parishes. A searchable listing of all parishes in the Fall River Diocese is available here along with links to their websites.
Mass Attendance and Dispensation
All of the established safety measures for attending Mass will be strictly enforced. Congregants are required to wear a mask for the entire Mass unless unable because of a medical condition or if under the age of two, and a distance of six-feet will separate seating except for members of the same household.
With limits on the number of persons allowed inside a church for Mass, I have authorized for this year an earlier start time of 2 p.m. for the celebration of the Christmas Vigil Mass. Some parishes have scheduled an additional earlier Vigil Mass prior to the usual 4 p.m. celebration.
The dispensation of the obligation to attend Sunday and Holy Day Masses including Christmas will continue to be in effect throughout the Christmas season and into the New Year. It may be helpful to keep in mind that the Church’s celebration of Christmas does not end on Christmas Day but continues for eight days, ending on January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. For this year, parishioners may wish to consider attending Mass on another day within the Octave of Christmas. For example, the Feast of the Holy Family in 2020 falls only two days after Christmas with its Vigil Mass on the day after Christmas. Masses for that weekend would serve well those who want to include participating in Mass in-person within their Christmas observance but have concerns about the risks of being in a larger crowd.
Christmas is one of the most important days of the Church year, second only to Easter itself. It is the celebration of Christ coming among us. Those who are not attending Christmas Mass in person are encouraged to take part in a Mass offered on television or online. I will celebrate Christmas Mass at 12 noon on Christmas Day on WLNE-TV, Channel 6. Almost all parishes in the Fall River Diocese live stream their Masses, and many post them on their website for viewing at other times. In addition, Catholic cable television networks like Catholic TV and EWTN air Masses at different times on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Continued Advent Blessing to all of you,
Bishop da Cunha