Praying for Peace and Justice During Advent
As the days grow shorter and nights grow longer, we enter into the season of Advent and await the coming of the Christ child. The focus of our faith tradition urges us to prayerfully prepare for the birth of Light into our darkness and lives in tension with the focus of popular culture—the “only-so-many-days-until-Christmas” message—that bombards us with the message to shop often and buy more and more. How do we counter the impact of cultural forces on our spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ? How will we keep our hearts turned toward God during this holiday season?
We all know the familiar strains of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and probably most know that Emmanuel means “God is with us.” The names for God in this well-known hymn echo those of another tradition involving praying with the O Antiphons during Vespers in the Liturgy of the Hours in the Octave before Christmas, the seven days preceding Christmas Eve. This ancient practice dating back to the early centuries of the Church begins on December 17 and continues through December 23. Each day, preceding the Magnificat, the recitation or chanting of the antiphon incorporates a name for God rooted in the writings of the prophet Isaiah and invites the Lord into our world in specific ways. The names are preceded by the interjection “O” voicing our strong emotion and adding to the impact of our addressing God formally in prayer. The seven “O’s” of the antiphons give them their commonly used name of the “O Antiphons.” After each Messianic title, the antiphon goes on to prayerfully ask God to come into the world for specific reasons rooted in the related texts from Isaiah such as to free prisoners, to show us the way to live, and to bring light.
The names and the related passages from Isaiah are as follows: (1)
Dec. 17 “O Sapientia (O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God) Is. 11:2-3 and 28:29
Dec. 18 “O Adonai” (O Sacred Lord) Is 11:4-5 and 33:22
Dec. 19 “O Radix Jesse” (O Flower of Jesse’s Stem) Is. 11:1, 10
Dec. 20 “O Clavis David” (O Key of David, O Royal Power of Israel) Is 22:22 and 9:6
Dec 21 “O Oriens” (O Radiant Dawn... O Sun of Justice) Is 9:1
Dec 22 “O Rex Gentium” (King of All Nations, joy of every heart, Keystone) Is. 9:5, 2:4
Dec 23 “O Emmanuel” (God is With Us, King and Lawgiver, desire of the nations,) 7:14
You will need the complete text of the antiphons for the activities that follow below. Check out the complete texts and brief discussion of the O Antiphons at the following:
Additional background is available at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11173b.htm
An interesting feature of the O Antiphons is that when we start at the end with “Emmanuel” and take the first letter of each name, they spell out the Latin “ero cras” which means “Tomorrow, I will come.” (2) Our Lord, “whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us.”(3)
We too are called to be prophetic voices in our times. How can we use these seven names for our Messiah to enter into prayers for peace and justice in our world? The names we use to address God express attributes of God as well as reveal who we are in relationship with God. Names for God show our deepest beliefs about who God is in the depths of our hearts, and reflect our desires in prayer. How can praying with this ancient tradition help us express our need to actively invite the Light of the World into our darkness? Your students probably have had the experience of using Advent Calendars to prepare for Christmas and opening a door each day. How might the naming and invitation modeled in the antiphons lead to an opening of hearts in preparing for the coming of Christ?
-Using the O Antiphons and the background readings from Isaiah, discuss how we might pray for the needs of the world reflecting our understanding of Catholic social teaching values. Can our prayer help birth Jesus in today’s world?
-Using “O Sapientia”, for example, you might ask your students where we need God’s wisdom today. Where could the “Holy Word of God” make a difference right now in the world? If you have service projects planned for this season, you might develop this reflection question based on the project. How specifically would the students invite God’s wisdom into their lives or into the world at large and why?
-Another discussion point could be to ask what virtues are expressed in naming God in the O Antiphons such as hope and faith. Why are these important in any justice work?
-Point out that after naming God, each antiphon then invites God to come into the world for specific purpose. For example, “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice, come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” Could any of the values of CST be useful in discussing those who dwell in darkness or under the shadow of death? Where do we see darkness or injustice? Perhaps in the areas of famine in our world, perhaps in the world’s inability to peacefully settle conflict. Or perhaps in the racism and sexism evident in our everyday lives. What does such darkness do to human dignity? Does it prevent solidarity and working for the common good? Where do we see light? Possible answers might include those who work with AIDS patients, organizations such as Voices in the Wilderness and Catholic Relief Services, and elected officials who work to end oppression in all forms.
-What names for God do the students use to express attributes of God? How did they come to choose those names?
Activity: O Antiphon Banners
What you will need:
-Newspapers or magazines
-Cloth for banners or poster board
-A list of the seven core values of Catholic social teaching (You can access these on the Joliet Diocese Peace and Justice site at http://www.paxjoliet.org/justeach/justeach2.html )
-The complete text of the O Antiphons available at http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0374.html
Have students work individually or in groups looking for photos that reflect either a need to call upon the individual attributes of God such as wisdom or light named in the O Antiphons or a need to thank God for such a presence in our lives. For instance, a photo of war victims might reflect a need to pray for wisdom in our government leaders, photos of volunteers working with Hurricane Katrina victims might reflect God working through such people to meet the needs of the victims of the hurricane. Ask each student or group of students to come up with an example for each of the seven antiphons. Cut and glue the pictures onto a banner or poster board. Or, break the group into seven groups and assign each group one of the antiphons to illustrate.
As an additional exercise or as part of the above, for each antiphon ask the student to compose a one line prayer incorporating the name for Jesus in the antiphon, asking Jesus to come into the world now or thanking Jesus for coming into the world. If possible use the language of Catholic social teaching in the prayer response. For example. “O Wisdom, come into the hearts and minds of our government leaders so that we may stand in solidarity with all who suffer from famine and find ways to help end their suffering.” Or, “O Wisdom, we thank you for coming into the world and helping the leaders of nations find ways to end oppression and to honor the human dignity of all...”
These prayers could be put onto the banners/posters or put beside them.
If you choose not to incorporate the art project, students may still enjoy praying with the O Antiphons that final week before Christmas and writing their own reflections in response using some of the ideas from the project. Ask them to share these reflections at home with their families and to ask their families to add to the prayers.
Consider praying with the antiphons this Advent as part of your spiritual journey toward the birth of the Christ Child. Start or end the day with the appropriate antiphon. You may be able to find CDs with antiphons or find the O Antiphons sung online. Check the Erie Benedictine site at http://www.eriebenedictines.org/ to see if they are providing the sung antiphons this season. If you have no access to a computer in the classroom or are unable to find a CD with the antiphons, ask the class to recite the antiphon in unison. Have the appropriate readings from Isaiah available on the board.. Give them a few moments to look up the readings and to reflect on them in light of the signs of our times. Then call them to prayer by repeating the antiphon and inviting any who wish to do so to offer a one line prayer such as “thank you for the wisdom in .....” or “O Wisdom, we need you to come now...
The following link to the United States Bishops’ Conference contains more suggestions and information for classroom, parish, and family activities related to Advent themes.
The holiday season offers many opportunities to share our various family holiday traditions. Encourage your students to share family customs and to learn about one another’s various ways to celebrate the birth of Christ. This might include ways of decorating the house, different manger arrangements, foods, and prayer devotions.
Check out the information on Opening of the Heart: Photographs of Israeli and Palestinians at www.openingoftheheart.org . The exhibit looks into the hearts of those directly impacted by conflict in the Mideast and shows how violence damages people in many ways including the obvious physical injuries and in more subtle ways such as that which occurs in stereotyping groups of people. The traveling exhibit will be at Gallery 37, 66 Randolph St, Chicago until December 27, 2005. The website has information on ordering classroom teaching aids
May the birth of the Christ Child fill your hearts with peace and joy this Christmas season and touch you with love throughout the coming year. May your classrooms be filled with light throughout the school year. Blessings, Colette Wisnewski
1 Saunders, Rev. William “What Are The O Antiphons?” Arlington Catholic Herald 2000. The entire text of the article is available at http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0374.html
4 Center of Concern www.coc.org