This ancient advent hymn originated in part from the “Great ‘O’ Antiphons,” part of the medieval Roman Catholic Advent liturgy. On each day of the week leading up to Christmas, one responsive verse would be chanted, each including a different Old Testament name for the coming Messiah.
The text for "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" comes from a 7 verse poem that dates back to the 8th century. Originally music for a Requiem Mass in a fifteenth-century French Franciscan Processional, it was used in a call and response fashion during the vespers, or evening, service. The original text created the reverse acrostic "ero cras," which means "I shall be with you tomorrow," and is particularly appropriate for the advent season. A metrical version of five of the verses appeared in the 13th century, which was translated into English by J.M. Neale in 1851.
The Latin title is VENI EMMANUEL (Chant)* - and was sung by the men in my choir. It made for an exceptionally rich and poignant call.
Each of the five verses expounds upon one of the names for the Messiah:
"Emmanuel" (Isaiah 7:14, Mt 1:23) means "God with us" "Adonai" (Exodus 19:16) is a name for God, the giver of the law "Branch of Jesse" (Isaiah 11:1) refers to Jesus' lineage "Oriens" (Malachi 4:2, Luke 1:78-79) is the morning star or daystar "Key of David" (Isaiah 22:22) again refers to Jesus' lineage
When we sing each verse of this hymn (O Come Emmanuel), we acknowledge Christ as the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophesies. We sing this hymn in an already-but not yet-kingdom of God. Christ's first coming gives us a reason to rejoice again and again, yet we know that all is not well with the world. So along with our rejoicing, we plead using the words of this hymn that Christ would come again to perfectly fulfill the promise that all darkness will be turned to light. The original text created a reverse acrostic: “ero cras,” which means, “I shall be with you tomorrow.” That is the promise we hold to as we sing this beautiful hymn.
Here is a lovely rendition of this traditional Advent hymn. Enjoy!
Note the calling in the second verse, for Wisdom (Sapientia) to come and teach us her way. Do we not need that more in this age than ever before?
I'm delighted to be singing the O Sapientia this season, with Dr. Marguerite Mullee, PhD for a fund raising effort benefiting Wisdom House. You'll be able to listen to the whole concert, and donate as you are inspired by visiting their website here (wisdomhouse.org )
Here's my solo practice
While I was researching this hymn, I also found this instrumental arrangement by the Piano Guys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iO7ySnSwwc&list=RDQMOahoTUm_Ba0&index=2
Want to know more about the Translator, John Neale? - you can read about him here at hymnary.org https://hymnary.org/text/o_come_o_come_emmanuel_and_ransom