O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

The Second Sunday of Advent
December 9, 2018

One of the most widely known Advent hymns is "O come, O come, Emmanuel." The hymn has been part of Christian worship for over 1,200 years and transports us to the monasteries of the eighth and ninth centuries. 

The Latin hymn originates from the "O antiphons," which were paired with the Magnificat (The Song of Mary) at vespers on December 17-23, the days leading up to Christmas Eve. These antiphons are rich in imagery and scriptural references from both the Old and New Testaments.

Medieval poets often created hidden meanings and clever "word games" within their work. This hymn is a perfect example. When looking at the first letter of the second word of each antiphon, you see the letters SARCORE.  Read backwards, these form the Latin words ERO CRAS, translated "I shall be present tomorrow." 

   O Sapientia
   O Adonai
   O radix Jesse
   O clavis David
   O Oriens
   O Rex gentium
   O Emmanuel

Only after singing the final antiphon on the day before Christmas Eve is the entire acrostic revealed.

The plainsong chant tune is ancient as well. The earliest known source of the tune was discovered in 1966 in a 15th century collection belonging to French Franciscan nuns. The volume is housed at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Here is the image of the first page:

By singing two stanzas of this hymn on each Sunday of Advent - concluding on the day before Christmas Eve - we remember this ancient practice of early Christians and prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Emmanuel ("God with us") at Christmas.

It is fascinating to explore the many modern settings of this hymn in a variety of musical styles. Here are a few that I'm listening to this Advent: Rick Lord guitar, The Piano GuysPentatonix

Music for The Second Sunday of Advent
December 9, 2018

76  On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (Winchester New)
65  Prepare the way, O Zion (Berenden väg för Herran)
56  O come, O come Emmanuel, stanzas 3-4 (Veni, veni, Emmanuel )
67  Comfort, comfort ye my people (Psalm 42)
66  Come, thou long expected Jesus (Stuttgart)

Service Music
Trisagion S-102  -Alexander Archangelsky
Sanctus S-130  -Franz Peter Schubert/Richard Proulx
Fraction Anthem S-169  My flesh is food indeed  -Ray W. Urwin

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence  -arr. Fred Gramann
Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree  -Elizabeth Poston

Organ Music
Prelude on O Come, O Come Emmanuel  -Robert Lau
Variations on Comfort, Comfort Ye My People  -Robert Lau

Score image from The Hymnal 1982 Companion, Raymond F. Glover, editor. 1994, Church Publishing, Inc.


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