Pastor’s Corner – November 23, 2014

with Fr. James

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is the probably the most well-known Advent hymn in English. Its lyrics have a long history.

Their roots are liturgical antiphons which probably stretch back before the fall of the Roman Empire. They became known early on as the “Great O Antiphons” and have been part of the Latin Rite liturgy since the 8th century. They continue to this day as the introductory Antiphons to the Magnificat at Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours during December 17-23.

These Great O Antiphons in their liturgical order begin with: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O East), O Rex gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. All of these titles come from prophetic descriptions for the Messiah.

“Adonai” in the second antiphon is the Hebrew word for “Lord”. Centuries before Jesus’ day the Jews ceased to pronounce the Divine Name (today usually transcribed ‘Yahweh’), and substituted Adonai. That practice continues to this day. We believe Jesus is Lord.

“Oriens” in the fifth antiphon literally means “east”, but is translated “Daystar” in our hymn. In this case, Oriens refers to Malachi 3:20 where the rising “Sun of Righteousness” describes the coming Messiah.

The Latin hymn on which our translation is based, “Veni Veni Emmanuel,” dates back to the 9th century. In 1851 John Mason Neale made the first English translation and adaptation, inspired by German metrical versions published in Cologne in 1710.


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