Fiber and Flesh, and the O Antiphons

Each year the Church presents this genealogy of Jesus, which we can easily skim over when reading because the names do not hold much meaning for us. But this genealogy is significant because it establishes the historical fact of Christ, and his entry into a very human line of very real and imperfect people. Even the great poet, King David (the Hebrew letters of whose name (דוד) add up to the number fourteen, establishing the structure of Jesus’ genealogy as three sets of fourteen generations), was a great sinner.

And yet, this is how God comes to us, entering into human history, into a human family, into human time, in human flesh. “What tremendous dignity God acknowledges mankind to possess when he reveals to it a mystery that has been contained within the very fiber and flesh of generation after generation! God reveals to man not only the being of God: God reveals man to himself in all his hidden possibilities… Who could have suspected humanity’s hidden talent to be able to bear God, not as a cup bears water or as the hand bears a weight, but in the most intimate, physiological sense possible: as a mother bears her child, with everything that implies for the interpenetration of two beings?” (Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word)

In the Incarnation, we come face to face with the Mysterious Fact that we, too, are caught up in a biological and spiritual genealogy, each with the possibility and responsibility of bearing God’s Presence within us and among us, for others.

Today we also begin the “O Antiphons,” recited for the next seven days before the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours, and as the Alleluia Antiphon before the Gospel at Mass. These antiphons have been chanted since the early centuries of the Church, each one highlighting a title for the Messiah found in the prophecy of Isaiah. Most people recognize these antiphons from the popular Advent hymn, O come, O come, Emmanuel. We express our longing and pray and beseech the Messiah to come to us, invoking imagery from the Old Testament that has helped us understand our relationship with God for thousands of years. Each year, we acknowledge this patrimony and beseech the Lord to come to us anew. These supplications are reminders of preparation for the Parousia – the final Coming of Christ in glory –  the long-range focus of our Christmas preparations.

If, on Christmas Eve, we look back and start at the last title in the O Antiphons and take the first letter of each one (Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia) the Latin words ERO CRAS are formed, meaning “Tomorrow, I will come.” The monks arranged these antiphons with definite purpose!

Maybe you can recite the day’s antiphon before Grace at dinner each night. Maybe you can explore even more deeply the ancient meanings at prayer. Because praying with the Church is a way to grow in holiness!

Contact the author

Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is

Feature Image Credit: Il ragazzo,