o come, emmanuel

On Friday, I began to list the “O” antiphon of the day, from the Liturgy of the Hours, on Facebook. Many of you have asked me what these are. I’m happy to say that most people know them, at least, have sung them, if they have attended church during the Advent season. The song, Oh Come, O Come Emmanuel, contains all seven of the “O” antiphons.

Let’s break it down. First of all, the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office, is a set of prayers that priests, religious and laypersons pray throughout the day. The seven daytime canonical hour prayers are lauds (dawn), prime (sunrise), terce (mid-morning), sext (midday), none (mid-afternoon), vespers (sunset), compline (retiring) and the one nighttime canonical hour of night watch. As an Oblate and Jim, as a Deacon candidate, we are required to pray a minimum of two; morning (prime) and evening (vespers) prayers. Priests and other religious are required to pray all seven and laypersons choose whatever combination they want.  

Next, the word antiphon. An antiphon is a short sentence sung or recited before or after a psalm or canticle. During Mass, a cantor (singer) will sing the antiphon first and then invited us to sing it in response. Then, as the cantor sings the verses of the Psalm, he or she will indicate when we are to repeat the antiphon. Sometimes, if a cantor is not present, the person who does the scripture reading(s) will read the antiphons and verses and the congregation will respond by reciting the antiphon.

And so, that gets us to the “O” Antiphons. The antiphons are seven names for Christ, taken from the Old Testament. These antiphons introduce the Magnificat, or canticle of Mary, at evening prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, from December 17th through December 23rd.  Each of them begins with a traditional title for Christ. They are: “O Wisdom,” “O sacred Lord,” “O Flower of Jesse’s Stem,” “O Key of David,” “O Radiant Dawn,” “O King of all the nations,” and finally, “O Emmanuel” which means “God with us.”  Each of these traditional titles for the Messiah connects the coming of Christ with the prophetic writings of the Old Testament.

” O Come, O Come Emmanuel” with its longing for the coming of the Savior, genuinely belongs to Advent and not to Christmas.  Its melody is based on Gregorian Chant, and its verses are all taken from the Church’s “O” Antiphons. I’ve listed the lyrics below and a link to hear our brothers at Saint Meinrad chant it. Take a moment to read through or listen…think of the longing of those in the Old Testament for a savior.

As we wait (Advent) for Christ’s birth, let us ask God that we might prepare room for him in the “inn” of our hearts.

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 Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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