Earliest Novena & Greater Antiphons

Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier

A novena is a nine days' prayer said as a preparation for some particular feast, or in order to obtain some special favor. The model and the first of all novenas was made in the Cenacle (the upper room), after the Ascension of our Lord, by the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin in preparation for the coming of the Holy Ghost. The earliest ecclesiastical novena of which the Church has on record is the Christmas novena of nine days, which commemorates the nine months during which the Christ-child was carried in the womb of His Mother.


[From "Blessed Be God" prayer book, 1959]

December 16

O Shepherd that rulest Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep, come to guide and comfort us.
(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be)

December 17

O Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence!
(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be)

December 18

O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm!
(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be)

December 19

O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliver us, do not tarry.
(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be)

December 20

O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be)

December 21

O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Son of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!
(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be)

December 22

O King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Corner-stone, that makest of two one, come to save man, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!
(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be)

December 23

O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!
(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be)

December 24

O Thou that sittest upon the cherubim, God of hosts, come, show Thy face, and we shall be saved.
(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be)

The Greater Antiphons

Seven of these verses have been traditionally said or sung as part of the Divine Office at Vespers for over 1400 years. The Divine Office is:

"the service of prayer and praise, psalms, lessons, hymns, etc., ancillary to and distinct from the sacrifice of the Mass, which all priests and certain other clerics are obliged to recite daily, which is said or sung in choir by monks, friars, many nuns and some others, and in which the laity are exhorted to take part according to their ability and opportunity.' - "A Catholic Dictionary", Attwater (1954)

These seven verses are also known as The "O" Antiphons (or The Great O's) because each begins with that interjection. They are said in conjunction with 5 psalms at Vespers beginning on December 17th.

The boundless desire for the coming of Christ which is the characteristic of Advent is expressed in the liturgy with an insistence which grows greater as we draw nearer to Christmas. This longing for the coming of Christ is seen most poetically in these "O" Antiphons.

They embody the profound poignancy with which all creation waits for God's presence in Jesus Christ. They express the longing felt for the coming of the Messiah by the patriarchs, the prophets and all the Jewish people including Mary.

December 17: O Wisdom (O Sapientia)...................come
December 18: O Adonai (O Adonai).....................come
December 19: O Root of Jesse (O Radix)................come
December 20: O Key of David (O Clavis)................come
December 21: O Radiant Dawn (O Oriens)................come
December 22: O King of the Nations (O Rex Gentium)....come
December 23: O Emmanuel (O God-with-us)...............come

The first antiphon translated :
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: come, ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, who camest out of the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.

Christmas Novena

A separate Novena begins ON Christmas Day … when we celebrate the arrival of Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us.

Here is the Novena that begins on Christmas Day. (Taken from "Treasury of Novenas" - Catholic Book Publishing Co.)


The mystery of our salvation is to be honored during the Christmas Season, but not as something that happened two thousand years ago … rather as something present. While the act itself of Christ's birth and manifestation is past, its effects are present. The hidden reality in this mystery is Christ and His saving action. He is present in the mystery of Christmas and Epiphany, constantly interceding for us and communicating Himself in holy symbols.

After the time of waiting in Advent, we enjoy a fuller realization of Christ's presence among us. We should meditate on and celebrate the Christmas mystery as happening now to us and embrace its spiritual effects with an open heart. In the Word made flesh, we see that God is no stranger to the human condition; in the Infant born in a stable to simple working people, we come to understand that God Who is infinitely great is also one of us.

Christmas celebrates the Father's gift to us: the revelation of His loving presence. This knowledge has been given to us through Israel and the prophets and supremely through Christ His Son. It must continue to be made manifest through Christ, living in us.

Christmas is not just a commemeration of our Lord's birth, but the celebration of the great "Emmanuel" (God-is-with-us) mystery. God wants to share our human condition. At Christmas, Christians celebrate the dawn of God's light shining upon man, who goes through a valley of darkness.

The four Christmas Masses, the feast of the Holy Family, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the Epiphany (Manifestation) of the Lord and His Baptism, show us how God revealed Himself in the Lord Jesus, in Whom He is really "Emmanuel — God with us." In Jesus we see our God made visible and so are caught up in the love of God we cannot see.

The Word of God

"When peaceful stillness compassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent, Your all -- powerful Word from heaven's royal throne bounded, a fierce warrior into the doomed land." (Wis.18:14-15)

"Though He was in the form of God, He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men." (Phil.2:6-7)

"While they were there the days of Mary's confinement were completed. She gave birth to her first-born Son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room in the place where travelers lodged." (Luke 2:6-7)

Novena Prayers
Novena Prayer

Heavenly Father, You made Christmas night radiant with the splendor of Jesus Christ our light. I welcome Him as Lord, the true light of the world. Bring me to the joy of His heavenly kingdom.

We are filled with the new light by the coming of Your Word among us. May the light of faith shine in my words and actions.

Lord God, I praise You for creating man, and still more for restoring Him in Christ. Your Son shares our weakness: may I share His glory. Make me faithful to Your Word, that I may bring Your life to others. He made me Your child. May He welcome me into His Kingdom.

God of power and life, glory of all who believe in You, fill the world with Your splendor and show the nations the light of Your truth. May the simple beauty of Jesus' birth summon us always to love what is most deeply human and to see Your Word made flesh reflected in those whose lives we touch.

Father, in the wonder of the Incarnation Your eternal Word has brought to the eyes of faith a new and radiant vision of Your glory. In Him we see You, our God, made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.

At Christmas You fill our hearts with joy as we recognize in Christ the revelation of Your love. No eye can see His glory as our God, yet now He is seen as one like us. Christ is Your Son before all ages, yet now He is born in time. He has come to lift up all things to Himself, to restore unity to creation, and to lead mankind from exile into Your heavenly Kingdom.

At Christmas in Jesus a new light has dawned upon the world: God has become one with man, and man has become one again with God. Your eternal Word has taken upon Himself our human weakness, giving our mortal nature immortal value. So marvelous is this oneness between You, our God, and man, that in Christ man restores to man the gift of everlasting life.

For the love of Jesus, Your Divine Son, become Man for us, I beg of You, grant me rich graces during this joyful season of Christmas. I ask especially for this favor: (mention your request). In honor of the birth of Jesus, grant what I ask if it be Your Holy Will

Prayer to Our Newborn Savior

Divine Infant Jesus, with Mary and Joseph I kneel down in devout worship as I gaze upon You lying in Your crib. You wished to enter the world as a child in order to prove Yourself to be true Man; for by Your weeping and by Your need for rest and nourishment You prove that You have truly taken on human nature. You become human that I may be able to see You, listen to You, imitate You, and unite myself to You.

Even though You are God, You are now able to suffer for us, atone for our sins, and merit graces for our souls. It is through the flesh that man turns away from God; it is in taking on the flesh that You, our God, deliver us.

But You become Man also that man may become like God. In exchange for the humanity which You take from us, You wish to make us share in Your Divinity by sanctifying grace, that You may take complete possession of us.

May the mystery of Your birth bring me the grace to be born anew and live a new, Divine life, more free from sin and from too great an attachment to myself and creatures, a life for God alone.

As it was Mary's joy to form You in her own body, may her joy now be to form You in my soul, so that I may be more like You.

Jesus, I believe that the greatest proof of God's goodness and love toward us is His gift to us of You, His only beloved Son. All love tends to become like that which it loves. You loved man; therefore, You became man. Infinite love and mercy caused You, the Second Person of the most Holy Trinity, to leave the Kingdom of eternal bliss, to descend from the throne of Your majesty, power, and glory, to become a helpless child, to suffer and die for us, that we might live.

In Your crib I see the most wondrous love that ever was … the love of God humbling Himself so low to beg the love of our hearts. Give me the grace to love You in return with a deep, true, personal love. I surrender to Your gentle saving influence my heart and mind and will, also that my life may be lived in You, and You may become my intimate daily Companion, Consoler, and Friend.

May I come eagerly and often to unite myself closely to You in your Sacrament of Love. The church shall be my Bethlehem; the altar, the crib; the sacred species of bread and wine, the swaddling clothes by which I can recognize you as my God, and under which I can, as Mary and Joseph and the shepherds did, take You into my arms; even receive You into my heart … a grace which even the Angels envy me.

Jesus, from the crib You teach the world the true dignity of humility. Poverty, suffering and humiliation stand by Your Cross and by Your crib. Your becoming a child for love of us is the greatest act of humility the world has ever seen. Although heaven and earth cannot contain You, although You are the Creator of all and King of glory, You humble Yourself to such a degree that You need human help. The infinite Lord of all becomes a servant; the Almighty, a helpless creature; the Immortal, mortal. Your Divine love chose this way of raising fallen mankind to its former dignity, for nothing draws the hearts of people so easily to God as Your stooping so low to reach them.

Draw me and all mankind to yourself by the example of Your loving humility. Teach me that my true glory consists in humbling myself, for You said, "I assure you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of God." (Mt.18:3)

Prayer to Jesus, God Made Man

Jesus, Son of the glorious Virgin Mary and only Son of the living God, I adore You and acknowledge You as my God, the only true God, one and infinitely perfect. You have made out of nothing all things that are outside of You, and You preserve and govern them with infinite wisdom, sovereign goodness, and supreme power.

I beg of You, by the mysteries that were fulfilled in Your sacred Humanity, to cleanse me in Your Blood from all my past sins. Pour forth abundantly upon me Your Holy Spirit, together with His grace, His virtues, and His gifts.

Make me believe in You, hope in You, love You, and labor to merit the possession of You through each of my actions. Give yourself to me someday in the brightness of Your glory, in the company of Your Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph, and all Your Saints. (Here we can also invoke our own special patron Saints.)

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