The Solemn Novena in preparation for the birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
This novena in preparation for the birth of Lord Jesus Christ is centered on the ancient O antiphons which date back to the early centuries of the church. Antiphons are short liturgical texts that were composed to be recited or chanted before a psalm or canticle. In the case of the O antiphons, they were composed by the monks to be chanted at Evening prayer before the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord, My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour...”, the famous canticle composed by Our Lady under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit during her visit to her cousin Elizabeth. Each of the seven O antiphons are centered around a Messianic title of Our Lord, such as “Wisdom”, “Root of Jesse”, “Key of David”, that appeared in the writings of the Prophet Isaiah who foretold His coming. The monks arranged the antiphons in a certain order so that the first letter of each one, Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia—form the Latin phrase “Ero cras” which means “Tomorrow I will come”. Hence they are a beautiful way of preparing for the coming of the Lord as we wind down these days of advent in preparation for the birth of the Child Jesus.
This solemn novena consists of the recitation of the Chaplet of the Holy Infant Jesus, a reading taken from the Divine Office with a short introduction and the novena prayer itself composed of invocations to the Child Jesus based on the events of his childhood recorded in sacred scripture with the refrain from the ancient Christmas carol, O come O come Emmanuel, which is based on the O antiphons, the chanting of the O antiphon and the Magnificat, ending with the ancient Marian antiphon, Alma Redemptoris Mater. Come let us adore Him!
The simple one letter expression “O” which begins each of the O antiphons is an expression of the heart. It expresses a sighing and a longing of the heart that a multitude of words just cannot express. Saint Augustine on this first day of the novena speaks of the hidden anguish of men’s hearts which is inaudible to others but at times finds its expression in groaning. Saint Augustine also calls this groaning the expression of the desire of the heart that finds its expression in prayer. The O antiphons express this longing of mankind that lay in anguish, burdened under the weight of sin for thousands of years since the fall of Adam, and expresses mankind’s collective sigh “Oooohhhh!” of relief from anguish and the answer to all prayerful longing in the coming of our infant savior on Christmas day.
Reading St Augustine on Psalm 37(38)
Your very desire is your prayer
I have roared out with the groaning of my heart. There is a secret groaning, which is not heard by man: yet if the thought of some strong desire has taken so strong hold of the heart, that the wound of the inner man finds expression in some uttered exclamation, everyone wonders why. A man says to himself, “Perhaps this is the cause of his groaning? Perhaps this thing or that thing has happened to him?” But who can know the answer except the one before whose eyes and ears he groaned? So the psalmist says I roared out with the groaning of my heart because if men ever hear a man’s groanings they hear only the groaning of the flesh; the groans within the heart are silent.
And who observed and noticed the cause of his groaning? All my desire is in front of you. It cannot be before men because they cannot see the heart, but still the psalm says all my desire is in front of you. If your desire is laid before him then the Father, who sees in secret, will grant it to you.
For that very desire of your heart is your prayer; and if your desire continues uninterrupted, then so does your prayer. It was not in vain that the Apostle said Pray without ceasing. Can we be always bending the knee, prostrating the body, or lifting up our hands, that he says Pray without ceasing? If that is what prayer means then I say that we cannot do it without ceasing.
There is another inward kind of prayer without ceasing, which is the desire of the heart. Whatever activity you happen to be engaged in are doing, if you only long for that Sabbath then you do not cease to pray. If you do not want to pause in prayer then never pause in your longing.
Your continuous desire is your continuous prayer. If you cease to desire than you will have fallen silent in your prayer. Who are those who have fallen silent? Those of whom it is said Because iniquity will abound, the love of many will grow cold.
The freezing of love is the silence of the heart; the burning of love is the cry of the heart. If love continues then you are still lifting up your voice; if you are always lifting up your voice, you are always longing after something; if you are always longing, it is the Sabbath rest you are thinking of.
And all my desire is before Thee. How can we suppose that our desire is before him, but our very “groaning” is not before him? How can that be, since our desire itself finds its expression in “groaning”?
And so comes the line And my groaning is not hidden from you. From you indeed it is not hidden; but it is hidden from many men. The servant of God sometimes seems to be saying in humility, And my groaning is not hidden from you. Sometimes also he seems to smile. Is then that longing dead in his heart? If however there is the desire within, there is the “groaning” also. It does not always find its way to the ears of man; but it never ceases to sound in the ears of God.
O Antiphon of the Day.
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
Isaiah had prophesied:
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14
(Immanuel means “God with us”).