O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Around 1,200 years ago, in monasteries of the Western Christian church, there was a particular 7 songs called the ‘O Antiphons’. These were sung at evening prayer in the 8 days leading up to Christmas Day.

The ‘O Antiphons’ were in a style from the early Western Christian church known as ‘plainchant’. It’s just one line of melody, usually in Latin; it doesn’t have any harmony; it does not have a strict rhythm; it doesn’t have instrumental accompaniment. In church music, the term used for a ‘chorus’ is ‘antiphon’. The ‘O Antiphons’ are ‘plainchant antiphon’ – in other words, they are unaccompanied, free-rhythm melody, with a chorus.

At some point, someone decided to take the Latin text of the ‘O Antiphons’ and make their own version of it. They paraphrased the words, and set them to a steady rhythm. The text of this new, metrical version of the “O Antiphons” was first published in a hymnal called the Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum in Cologne in 1710.

Meanwhile, sometime in the 1400s in France, someone composed a lovely minor melody for a liturgy. We’re unsure exactly what it was intended for – it may have been part of a typical Catholic mass; it may have been used as a processional chant for a burial.

In 1851, a noted hymn-writer called John Mason Neale published the metrical version of the “O Antiphons” first published in Germany in the 1700s, and translated it into English. Later that year, the choirmaster Thomas Helmore published Neale’s English translation, and set it to the 15th century minor French melody mentioned above. This pairing is the hymn ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ we know today.

There are lots of different English-language translations to choose from; the most commonly-used one is Neale’s revised translation, which I include here.

There’s also a translation of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ in Irish by Lil Nic Dhonnchadha on page 48 of the book ‘Ceol na Nollag’ (which you can download here: https://pdfslide.net/documents/ceol-na-nollag-de-barra-cusack-fionnuala-clo-chaisil-2002.html ).

I love the idea that this hymn originated over 1,200 years ago in the 8th or 9th century. I hope you enjoy! Bain taitneamh as!


O Antiphons:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

Latin Text from Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum (1710):

Veni, veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio,
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel. 

Veni o Jesse virgula!
Ex hostis tuos ungula,
De specu tuos tartari
Educ, et antro barathri.
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel. 

Veni, veni o oriens!
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel. 

Veni clavis Davidica!
Regna reclude coelica,
Fac iter Tutum superum,
Et claude vias Inferum.
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel. 

Veni, veni Adonai![b]
Qui populo in Sinai
Legem dedisti vertice,
In maiestate gloriae.
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel. 

Veni, O Sapientia,
Quae hic disponis omnia,
Veni, viam prudentiae
Ut doceas et gloriae. 

Veni, Veni, Rex Gentium,
Veni, Redemptor omnium,
Ut salves tuos famulos
Peccati sibi conscios.

Translation by John Mason Neale, 1861:

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.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel – Wikipedia”. 2022. En.Wikipedia.Org. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Come,_O_Come,_Emmanuel.

“Notes On Veni, Veni, Emmanuel”. 2022. Hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.Com. http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/Notes_On_Carols/notes_on_veni_veni_emmanuel.htm.