One of the best known, and most beloved, of all the hymns we sing during the Advent season is “O
Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The version that we use most often is a translation from the Latin by
the 19th century English scholar and hymn writer John Mason Neale, and it is sung to a 15thcentury
French tune called “Veni Emmanuel.”
This hymn is a paraphrase of the great “O Antiphons,” that accompany the Magnificat (Luke
1:46-55), and which are recited at Vespers over the last seven days leading up to Christmas Eve. An
antiphon is a brief chant that is sung in the liturgy as a refrain, such as the entrance antiphon and the
communion antiphon with which we are familiar at Mass. The text of the “O Antiphons” dates
perhaps as far back as the 6th century, and has its origin in the Liturgy of the Hours as observed in
the great monastic houses of Italy and beyond. All of the antiphons begin with the vocative capital
letter “O,” and are titles of Christ from the Sacred Scriptures, each assigned to one of the latter days
17 Dec: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
18 Dec: O Adonai (O Lord)
19 Dec: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
20 Dec: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
21 Dec: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
22 Dec: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
23 Dec: O Emmanuel (O God With Us)
During this same period, the “O Antiphons” are also used as the Alleluia verses before the Gospel at
Mass. Perhaps from Dec. 17 through Dec. 23 you could use the “O Antiphons,” as presented in “O
Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” as part of your daily devotions, meditating upon the various attributes
and titles of Christ that each of them present. Here again are the words of that hymn for your use.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.
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, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save, and give them victory over the grave.
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, thou Dayspring, 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, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Fr. Richard Ballard