The “O” Antiphons Advent Liturgy, 2021

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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2021, 7 P.M., in person in the cathedral nave, or livestreamed at

Please note: For the sake of safety, pre-registration is required to attend this year's "O" Antiphons liturgy, and proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test* must be presented. More information about this policy may be read at


The annual "O" Antiphons Liturgy is considered by many to be a highlight of the liturgical year at Saint Mark's. The particular form of this liturgy that we use was invented here, first presented in 1986, and is today used by churches around the world. It is similar to a "Lessons & Carols" service, but rather than presenting a linear narrative from scripture, it is structured around seven medieval antiphons, each beginning with the word "O ," which also form the basis of the hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel."

The liturgy is a poetic exploration of resonant images of Christ found in the antiphons—star, key, root, cornerstone—while drawing the connections between the first advent of Jesus, when he came into our world 2,000 years ago, with both the long-expected coming of the Christ at the end of time, as well as the coming of Christ into the human heart. This beloved cathedral tradition provides a moving and evocative entrance into the Advent season of prayerful expectation.

Incense is used. This year's event will feature the world premiere of a commissioned anthem by Dr. Zanaida Robles; learn more here.

* Following King County guidelines, a negative COVID test must be a professionally-administered PCR test, with the test taken in the prior 72 hours. Rapid antigen test is not acceptable for admission.

About the "O" Antiphons Service

Advent Processions have been offered at Saint Mark’s Cathedral for many years, though known by several names: Advent Vespers, Advent Lessons and Carols, etc. In 1986, a liturgy using the Great “O” Antiphons as a framework was developed and presented here for the first time. Today, the form of this liturgy created here is used in churches around the world. In normal times, it is one of the few opportunities each year to hear the Compline Choir, the Cathedral Choir, and the Choir School collaborate in a single service  Through the decades, former music directors Peter Hallock and Mel Bulter have written a number of works especially for this service, these choirs, and the space of the cathedral nave—these include several settings of the O Antiphons themselves, the processional anthem "Let My Prayer Come Up as the Incense," and the arrangement used for the culminating rendition of "O Come O Come Emmanuel," among others.

Check out service leaflets from the O Antiphons service of recent years: 2019, 2018, 2017

Videos of this service from recent years maybe be seen here:

The "O" Antiphons Advent Liturgy, 2017


About the "O" Antiphons

The seven “Great” O Antiphons which provide the framework for this liturgy were originally sung as a part of the daily evening prayers of the Western church before and after the Magnificat, in the Octave before Christmas, December 17 to 23, with one antiphon being appointed for each evening. Each of the seven antiphons addresses the Messiah by one of his titles, using images drawn from the prophetic books of the Hebrew bible, and concludes with a petition beginning “Come!” and relating to the title.

The antiphons date back at least to the reign of Charlemagne (771–814), and they may be significantly older. At least two—and up to five—additional verses were later added to the original seven. However, it is clear that these seven were designed as a group, since their initial letters (ignoring the “O” that precedes each line) spell out, in reverse, the acrostic ERO CRAS, that is, “I shall be [with you] tomorrow.”

By the later Middle Ages, the antiphons had been put together to form the verses of a single hymn, with the addition of a refrain. The earliest known metrical and rhymed form of the O Antiphons—essentially the hymn we know today as “O come, O come, Emmanuel”—did not appear until the early 18th century. It was first pared with the 15th-century tune now known as Veni Emmanuel in an English-language hymnal in 1851.

One Response

  1. Jimmy Thompson
    | Reply

    I am so thankful for this! It so reverential and meaningful for Advent. Well done thou Good and Faithful!

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