Thursday, December 12, 2013

O Come O Come Emmanuel

Every Advent I cringe at the first sound of "O Come O Come Emmanuel." Not because I hate it, per se, but because I know I will be subject to hearing it thousands of times. Every mass, every service. It is the only "Advent hymn" anybody knows. Jeff Miller has noticed the same thing, and blogged about it in "Parishioners shocked to Learn there is more than one Advent hymn." For the record, here are just a few of the Advent songs from the Advent playlist I made in protest:

O' Come Divine MessiahCome Thou Redeemer Of The Earth
Rorate CaeliSavior of the Nations, Come
Come Thou Fount of Every BlessingLet All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
In the Bleak MidwinterLo How a Rose E'er Blooming
Of The Father's Love BegottenMy Soul in Stillness Waits
O Savior, Rend the Heavens WideCreator of the Stars of Night
People Look East
"O Come O Come Emmanuel" is actually a song I enjoy (in moderation). The text was written in the twelfth century, though the music is nineteenth century. At mass we always sing verses one and two, which is why those are the ones I have memorized, but the song actually has seven verses. The cool thing is that the verses are based upon the O Antiphons.

What are the "O Antiphons?" The seven O Antiphons are prayers that come from the Breviary's Vespers during the Octave before Christmas Eve, a time which is called the "Golden Nights."

Each Antiphon begins with "O" and addresses Jesus with a unique title which comes from the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah. In true Medieval style the initial letters of the titles, in Latin, when read backwards, form an acrostic "Ero Cras" which means "Tomorrow I come" in Latin (gotta love those Medieval scholars). The seven titles for Christ are:
AdonaiLord of Israel
Radix JesseRoot of Jesse
Clavis DavidKey of David
Rex GentiumKing of Gentiles/All Nations
EmmanuelGod with us
I looked up the lyrics, and it seems most of the ones I found online have the verses in a different order, though, which breaks the correlation to the O Antiphons. Even Oremus (which is usually a great source for information on hymns) has the order "wrong".  The only place I found the verses in the "correct" order was a Lutheran hymnal web site (gotta love those Lutherans).

You can click through the links to see the whole song, but the first lines of each verse are as follows:
Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel...
Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high...
Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might...
Oh, come O Rod of Jesse's stem...
Oh, come, O Key of David, come...
Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high...
Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind...

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel...
and each verse  follows the corresponding prophecy from which the O Antiphons comes from.

I know we're already almost halfway done with Advent, but this is the first opportunity I've had to blog about the coolness of this song. So get out there and start singing (in moderation).


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