O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is one of my favorite hymns.

Since we’re in the season of Advent, and approaching its end, I’d like to share the origin and meaning of this hymn.

This favored Christmas carol is no carol at all.

It’s a hymn for the season of Advent — the liturgical season that is about so much more than simply preparing for Christmas. During these short four weeks, the Church has historically focused on our Lord Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all prophecy and human yearning as she anticipates not only the celebration of his incarnation at Christmas but also as she waits in hope for his glorious return at the end of time.

The verses of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel are taken from seven ancient antiphons that the Church has used in her Evening Prayer liturgy since well before the ninth century. Every year, from Dec. 17 to 23, the Church’s liturgy enters a more intense and proximate preparation for Christ’s coming at Christmas. This shift is noticeable in the readings at Mass during these days, but also in the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours, specifically at evening prayer. Every evening during that week, the Church prays one of what have become known as the great “O Antiphons” before reciting Our Lady’s Magnificat canticle.

The O Antiphons invoke Our Lord using imagery taken from the Old Testament…

Each of these O Antiphons is a beautiful prayer in itself, but each also demonstrates exactly how the Church has come to understand Christ’s relationship to the promises and images of God so prevalent in the Old Testament…

The O Antiphons are much more than simple refrains to be chanted before Our Lady’s Magnificat or to serve as verses in an Advent hymn. They reveal the mysteries of Christ already being revealed in the power and glory of God in the Old Testament…

These great antiphons remind us that there is so much more to Advent than preparing for Christmas. They remind us that Christ is the focal point of salvation history, and, in fact, of all world history, because he is Emmanuel — “God with us.”

The wisdom of God is exactly such that the Lord creates us to be in relationship with him in order to bring light not only to our lives, but to the world. Every year the Church gives us these four weeks so that we might remember in an intense way what we should be living every day: in preparation, anticipation and joyful hope that the Lord will come to us and save us.

Excerpts from the article “The Beauty and Power of the O Antiphons” by Father Thomas Petri, OP.

The hymn was originally written in Latin but has since been translated into various languages.

Now that we know the origin and meaning, I’d like to share the complete English text with you.

You can also listen to it. Please note: most versions don’t include all seven verses and translations vary.

May this hymn touch our souls so we may long for the Lord this season and every day throughout the year.

Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel. Photo from a friend

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

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 far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

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

O come, o come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times did give the law,
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.

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

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust Thy mighty power to save,
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

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,
That we no more have cause to sigh.

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 shadow put to flight.

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

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid every strife and quarrel cease
And fill the world with heaven’s peace.

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

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