O Come

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is one of the few Advent hymns still commonly known outside the Church. The irony is that it is also very old. It derives from the “O Antiphons” that were sung perhaps as early as the 6th century AD.

An “antiphon” is a short sung text that introduces or follows aO Antiphons longer Scriptural passage (also usually sung) during a liturgy or worship service. The “O Antiphons” were (and still are) sung with the Magnificat on the seven days leading up to Christmas. Each short text invokes Christ under one of his prophetic descriptions: “Rod of Jesse,” “Dayspring,” and so on. Sometimes the “O Antiphons” are moved back a day to make room for the additional antiphon “O Virgin of Virgins” on Dec. 23.

Sometime in the 12th or 13th centuries, someone composed a Latin hymn based on these antiphons. In the 1800’s, John Mason Neale translated the hymn and chose music for it from a 15th-century French missal. The music, originally for the funeral hymn “Libera me,” was adapted by his friend Thomas Helmore into the tune we know today.

It’s very unusual for hymnals to contain all of the verses to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” however popular the hymn is in general. So I’ve included all the verses below. In the following days this week, I’ll also be posting the great O Antiphons themselves, as we mark off the final 8 days before Christmas Eve.

*       *       *       *       *

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.


O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.


O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.


O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.


O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.


O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.


O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

~ Anonymous, 12th/13th cent.  Trans. J. M. Neale, 1851-1861.


About middlingpoet

From the Gawain poet to Rainer Maria Rilke: I love traditional poetry.
This entry was posted in Advent & Christmas, Anglican, Catholic, Church Year, Lutheran, Methodist and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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