A Note From Fr. Timothy
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
The hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is perhaps one of the most well-known and widely sung hymns of the Advent season. Though it is now commonly heard at any time during Advent, the text on which the hymn is based were originally placed at the end of the season, used as antiphons in Evening Prayer beginning December 17th and ending on the 23rd. These seven antiphons are known as the “Great Advent Antiphons”, or the “O Antiphons”, because each starts with the vocative particle “O”. The next word in each is a scriptural title used by the prophets (primarily Isaiah) in foretelling the coming of the Messiah. Each then makes a petition.
One of the interesting things to me (and perhaps slightly odd), is that the first verse of the hymn (both in English and Latin), is actually the last of the antiphons, used on the 23rd of December. “Emmanuel” is probably the title most closely connected with the birth of Christ – and if you were only going to sing one verse of the song, I could see why you might want it to be that verse. However, the order was specifically chosen by the original author for a reason. The “O Antiphons” go back to at least the eighth century, and the author, like many poets at the time, ordered the titles so that the first letter of each would spell out a message.
Sapientia (Wisdom), Adonai (Lord), Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), Clavis David (Key of David), Oriens (Dayspring), Rex Gentium (King of Nations), Emmanuel, (God with Us)
When spelled backward, we get Ero Cras – a Latin phrase meaning “Tomorrow, I will be [there].” The fact that it is backwards is rather fitting, as even though the prophets foretold the coming of Christ and the Jews anticipated his coming, it was not possible to accurately predict the date itself. It is only in looking back at the event after it has occurred that we can see the birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of all that had been foretold. When we finally hear “O Emmanuel” on the 23rd, it is like walking out of a fog and being able to see clearly again. We are now able to fully rejoice and celebrate what God has done.
As you observe these last days before the arrival of Christmas, let the “O Antiphons” help create in you a sense of longing and anticipation for the arrival of the Messiah. Whether spoken or in song, in Latin, Spanish, or English, let these prayers be on your lips this week.
May they help you to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture and trust in Him to assist us in our needs. And may we rejoice with all Israel and the world that Emmanuel has come to us.
O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations, Savior of all people,
Come and set us free, Lord our God.
Fr. Timothy Gapinski