“I’m really excited about the O Antiphons!” said a fellow novice during our first year in the Jesuit novitiate. It was early December and, frankly, I had no idea what he was talking about. But I soon came to appreciate why the O Antiphons are one of the most beloved of Advent traditions.
As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website explains: “The Roman Church has been singing the ‘O’ Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They. . .accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17–23.”
The first antiphon, on December 17, begins “O Wisdom of Our God Most High . . .” (Not “Oh” but “O,” which is a somewhat formal way of saying “You.”) In the Old Testament, speaking about Wisdom was seen as synonymous with speaking about God. Praying for a share in God’s wisdom during Advent is something we can all do without feeling ashamed or prideful. We’re not asking to have the full measure of God’s infinite wisdom but simply to be wise in our own lives. It is a virtue needed especially in difficult, stressful, or frightening situations. Earlier this year, when the coronavirus first started infecting and killing people across the world, it was easy to feel panic, frustration, and even anger. I had to pray almost daily for wisdom. I’m sure you did too.
Wisdom, however, can be a hard grace. Often the grace received is something essential in the spiritual life: the ability to see exactly where we are not wise. May the Lord grant us all that wisdom.