One of the most beautiful ancient Advent liturgical traditions is the “O Antiphons.” If you pray the Liturgy of the Hours, then you probably pray them every year. If you know the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel, then you know a paraphrase of them.
But did you know they have a secret message hidden within them?
At least that’s what some people claim. I’ll explain the evidence, and you can decide for yourself.
But first, what is an antiphon? Antiphons are short responses used in liturgies. The “O Antiphons” specifically are a set of seven short texts based on verses from the Old Testament book Isaiah that are used in Vespers (Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours) in the last week leading up to Christmas.
Scholars are not really sure who put the “O Antiphons” together or when. There’s evidence they date back to somewhere in the mid first millennium, but it’s possible they go back all the way to the early Church. Either way, they are old. Which makes this potential secret message all the more interesting.
The traditional text is in Latin. You can read the full text here. And this is where we find the suppose secret message.
First, you need to take the first letter of the first word (after the “O”) of the first line of each antiphon in Latin. Here’s what this looks like:
1) O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti…
2) O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel…
3) O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum…
4) O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel…
5) O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae…
6) O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum…
7) O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster…
You get the letters SARCORE.
Next, if you read them backwards, they become EROCRAS. Ero cras happens to be a Latin phrase meaning “Tomorrow, I will come.”
And of course, once the seven day cycle for the “O Antiphons” is completed, the next day is Christmas – the day Jesus comes.
Sorry that this secret message doesn’t predict the future or reveal any incredible mystical secrets. But it’s still pretty cool that the “O Antiphons” are written with this message there, and that no one seemed to notice for centuries (it was apparently first discovered by a scholar in the early 20th century).
That is, of course, if they were really put there intentionally. Not everyone is convinced that they were. Blogger Kathy Schiffer thinks that biblical translation issues would seem to make it less likely this was done on purpose. And a theology professor at St. John’s University has written that there is no known evidence that Christians would have wanted to purposely put this sort of message in their liturgical texts.
But who knows!
[See also: QUIZ: Can You Identify These Liturgical Objects?]
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