O Emmanuel / O Come O Come Emmanuel

December 23, 2015
Advent Reflections

The final of The Great “O” Antiphons reminds us that God is with us. 

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations and their Salvation: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, one of our most popular Advent hymns, is a summation of the O Antiphons. During the mid-19th century, Anglican priest and hymn writer John Mason Neale studied and translated Greek and Latin hymns. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel appeared in his collection Medieval Hymns and Sequences (1851), headed by his notation: “This Advent hymn is little more than a versification of some of the Christmas antiphons commonly called the O’s.” Neale’s translation of the hymn made it into the Church of England’s official hymnal in 1861 and spread from there throughout Protestantism.

Neale noted the hymn’s tune as from “French sources,” but no one knew what those sources were. The melody’s origin was eventually traced to a 15th-century processional funeral hymn for French Franciscan nuns, found in a manuscript in the National Library of Paris. Neale’s matching of tune and text seems inspired today; it is difficult to imagine the words set to any other music—especially when the verses are sung in a contemplative unison and the “Rejoice!” bursts forth in sudden, amazing harmony.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe.

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.

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.

Words: Latin, twelfth century; trans. John Mason Neale (1818-1866), 1851