“O” by Paul Turner
Yes, you read the title right. That's “ O" - the letter of the alphabet that most reminds us of breakfast cereal, inner tubes, doughnuts, hula hoops, no hitters, and Advent.
In many parishes, " 0" is the first word said in the new church year. Actually, we sing it in Advent's most popular hymn, " 0 Come, 0 Come, Emmanuel." It announces the season which anticipates the coming of Christ at Christmas. This hymn, which tells us Advent is starting, used to announce that Advent was ending. The last eight days of Advent form a little season all by themselves.
As the church prepares for the birthday of Christ, the liturgy gets more intense. At daily Mass, the Gospels relate the events leading up to the first Christmas. At evening prayer we have a special series of antiphons which beckon the Messiah to come. Each night gives him a new name, drawn from the Hebrew Testament. " 0 Wisdom," " 0 Sacred Lord," " 0 Flower of Jesse's Stem, 0 Key of David," " 0 Radiant Dawn," " 0 King of All the Nations," and the greatest of them all, " 0 Emmanuel," a name that means " God is with us."
For reasons which will be immediately obvious, we call that group of refrains the " 0 Antiphons," a hallmark of Advent, and a collection of music our church has treasured for many generations. The Mass now includes a version of them as the alleluia verses for the same eight days before Christmas.
By the middle ages those seven antiphons got strung together into a popular hymn. The last one became verse one, and " 0 Come, 0 Come Emmanuel" was born. Thus, the antiphon originally established for the last evening before Christmas Eve is now often sung to begin Advent.
That " 0," of course, simply tells us that we're talking to someone. It's like saying, "Hey, you." Only more politely. But " 0" reminds us of much more. It makes us think of something having no beginning and no end. Like love. Or an Advent wreath. It resembles the shape of our mouth, and the sound we make when we face a mystery we cannot fully comprehend.
See the O Antiphones below....