Advent: Jim Cotter’s ‘O antiphons’ for every day

The ‘O’ Antiphons from the 17th to the 23rd December for the Magnificat are rightly famous. With their haunting mode ii melody they are a distillation of the longing that is characteristic of Advent. In the Book of Common Prayer calendar they remain as the names of the day even if not in their text.

I really recommend that you make the effort to sing the texts to their original chant. Brother Reginald of the Society of Saint Francis has provided an English version available here. Once you get the melody in your head they are not difficult to sing.

Fr Alan Griffiths a Roman Catholic priest of the diocese of Portsmouth is the compiler of the superb three volume set Celebrating the Christian Year. I highly recommend them. In the Advent – Epiphany volume he provides metrical versions of the traditional texts to be sung to the well known hymn tune “O come, O come, Emmanuel”.  He also suggests a tone to sing the verses of the Magnificat to and the singing of the chorus between the verses (see below).

Anglican priest and liturgist the late Jim Cotter, produced a beautiful set of Advent verses that can be sung to the same tune, one for each day from 1st – 24th December. The book form was stunning:

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They were also printed as separate cards. Sadly I have sent all my copies as postcards.

I have created a document with all these verses in and the texts of the Benedictus and Magnificat in the Common Worship and BCP (Fr Alan’s suggestion):  Cotter O Antiphons.

They are also shown below.

I suggest singing Jim Cotter’s version at Matins with the Benedictus throughout Advent and the traditional forms or Fr Alan’s version from 17 – 23rd December at the Magnificat.

These are profound texts that warrant prayer and reflection.


Expectant: verses for Advent

Jim Cotter

Cairns Publications 2002

‘O Antiphons’ for all the days of December

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1

O come, O come, thou living word,

and pierce our hearts with healing sword,

from God’s own mouth proceeding far

to lance the festering wounds of war.

Rejoice! Rejoice! To mend our strife

shall come in flesh the God of Life.

2

O come, O come, thou wisdom strange

from deep within God’s womb to range

the earth at midnight’s hour of fears

to make us wise beyond our years.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Our God shall leap

with light that rouses us from sleep.

3

O come, O come, Adonai

in burning bush on Sinai,

the flame that holds us still in awe,

to etch in flesh the living law.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The marks of pain

shall show the law of love most plain.

4

O come, O come, thou Jesse’s tree,

a lifted sign for all to see,

where words of worldly force shall fail,

and earthly glory’s faces pale.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The power of love,

through death shall shine in flesh and blood.

5

O come, O come, thou David’ key,

unlock the gates and set us free.

Descendant of the king of old,

release us from oppression’s hold.

Rejoice! Rejoice! In words that sing

true liberty shall soon take wing.

6

O come, O come, thou living flame

of justice, calling out our name,

in fire our thoughts to clarify,

our wills to sear and purify.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The judge our sore

shall heal, our dignity restore.

7

O come, O come, thou lion brace,

and call the cowering from their cave,

course through our veins with thrilling roar,

inspire with courage, strength and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Together we

the lion, lamb, and child shall see.

8

O come, O come, thou swallow small,

responding to your infants’ call,

fly far and wide across the earth

and end with hope our winter’s dearth.

Rejoice! Rejoice! A tiny bird,

shall show a truth that seems absurd.

9

O come, O come, come, thou cornerstone,

and hold the tensions of your own,

thou keystone of community,

the bearer of humanity.

Rejoice! Rejoice! With arms and face,

the crucified shall all embrace.

10

O come, O come, thou wounded stag,

at home on rugged ridge and crag,

guide us who cut our feet on stone,

and bring us hope, whose bodies groan.

Rejoice! Rejoice! A tender cry

shall smooth our pain and lift us high.

11

O come, O come, thou salmon swift

to leap the ladder ‘gainst our drift,

to bear our sorrows to the source

and find in Love the one true force.

Rejoice! Rejoice! From purest spring

new life the loving one bring.

12

O come, O come, come, thou hidden king

with lightest touch our peace to bring,

with gentle power to reconcile,

and melt away our hate and guile.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The mountain dew

our common clay shall shape anew.

13

O come, O come, thou eagle’s eye,

who from an eyrie does espy

a people choking far below 

from heat and fumes of lava flow.

Rejoice! Rejoice! the wings shall gyre

to scoop the desp’rate from the fire.

14

O come, O come, thou haunting sound

that makes the silenced underground,

that gives the dungeoned words hard won

to claim their place beneath the sun.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The voice enfleshed

in word and deed shall free h’oppressed.

15

O come, O come, thou healing host

around whose table none can boast,

who welcomes home the stigmatised,

their rightful place now realised.

Rejoice! Rejoice! By touching hand

together all in God shall stand.

16

O come, O come, thou morning star,

a point of light so singular,

an unexpected hope so bright

that puts our grey despair to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The radiant dawn

shall soon console the hearts that mourn.

17

O come, O come, thou lover bold,

with warm embrace our flesh enfold;

to love our passion consecrate

that we with you may new create.

Rejoice! Rejoice! the chastener

shall pierce with truth yet melt our fear.

18

O come, O come, appointed one,

to be God’s love for everyone,

to speak on God’s behalf and show

as much of God as we need to know.

Rejoice! Rejoice! A fragrant oil

shall soon anoint for blessed toil.

19

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

God-with-us here and now to dwell,

at one with our humanity,

in whom we find our destiny.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The human face

of God with us shall interlace.

20

O come, O come, thou silent song,

the music of the spheres prolong,

that in our time soon disappears,

yet resonates in listening ears.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Through noises shrill

shall clearly sound a voice so still.

21

O come, O come, thou shaft of fire,

to lead us on through dark and more;

through desert bare thou moving cloud

protect and guide, fulfil what’s vowed.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Our God afresh

the covenant shall soon enflesh.

22

O come, O come, thou child of years,

with laughter to allay our fears,

sound the cosmos dancing light

to give the demons such a fright.

Rejoice! Rejoice! A girl, a boy,

shall leap into our hearts with joy.

23

O come, O come, thou calling child:

the creatures, those both tame and wild,

the weak and powerful, coax along

and change their trembling into song.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The vulnerable

shall make us all insep’rable.

23

O come, O come, thou unicorn,

appearing in our dreams, lovelorn,

expectant, quiv’ring, innocent,

wild messenger with God’s intent.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The Spirit shy

shall come this night with new-born cry.


Verses based on the traditional texts by Fr Alan Griffiths

17 December

Come, holy Wisdom, breath of God,

The Father’s all-fulfilling Word,

Creator Wisdom, strength and stay,

Teach us to walk thy royal way.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

18 December

O come, O come, O Adonai,

Who in a blaze of majesty

To Moses came and spoke the Law

On Sinai’s height in fear and awe.

19 December

O come, thou root of Jesse’s tree,

Who stand for all the world to see;

Let nations seek thy gentle sway,

O come to us without delay!

20 December

O key of royal David, come!

Unlock the doors of heaven’s home.

What thou hast opened, none shall close,

Safeguard for us that heavenward road.

21 December

O come, bright star of morning skies,

O Sun of justice, now arise!

Make radiant with thy holy light

The prisoners hid in death’s dark night.

22 December

O come, thou King of nations, show

Thy gentle rule on earth below;

O cornerstone of unity,

Renew us who, thou form’dst from clay.

23 December

O come, O come Emmanuel

And save thy people Israel,

Our Lord and King our Law and Light,

Come save us with great power and might.

© Alan Griffiths in Celebrating the Christian Year, volume III, Canterbury Press, 2005