Only one week until Christmas! How many times have you sung “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” so far this
year? Have you already lost count?
It’s probably the number-one, quintessential Advent hymn. Growing up, my family would sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” together every night before dinner when we lit our Advent wreath.
Later when we started taking elective Latin, we started to toss in a round of “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” into the mix. It’s always nice to have some variety in the ritual, but for us, regardless of the language, it was always just that first verse.
Did you even know that “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” had more verses?
If your pastor walks particularly slowly down the aisle, you might have sung “O Come, Thou Wisdom from On High” or even, “O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of Might”. But did you know that, not only are there seven verses to this hymn, but that “Emmanuel” should probably be the last verse, not the first?
Let me explain.
All around the world, every priest and every religious, and plenty of laypeople too, pray the same set of prayers – the Liturgy of the Hours. These prayers follow the Liturgical Calendar, enabling the Church to more deeply enter into the yearly life cycle of the liturgy as it flows through the year, living the life of Christ with him as His body.
In the week leading up to Christmas — so-called “Octave Before Christmas”— a set of seven Antiphons is
prayed before the nightly recitation of the Magnificat at Evening prayer. These are collectively called the “O Antiphons” (because they all start with the same word) and are derived from passages of Isaiah. They are:
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty
O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!
O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God!
You might notice that these seven prayers leave us a day short of Christmas Eve, because Evening prayer on Dec. 24, is the beginning of the celebration of Christmas itself; or that “Emmanuel” is the very last invocation on the list, not the first.
You might also notice the repeated plea to Jesus — ”Come!”— These prayers, taken together, build up into a crescendo of the longing of the Church for her bridegroom, as we prepare to celebrate His birth. They’re a beautiful way to enter more deeply into the spirit of Advent as it draws to a finale in the celebration of Christmas, and to join with the whole of the Universal Church as you do so!
If you can attend daily Mass throughout the Octave Before Christmas, you’ll also hear these Antiphons prayed as the “Alleluia Verse” before the Gospel.
But even if you’re something like me, a busy mom of three, who can’t commit to praying the Liturgy of the Hours daily, I would still invite you to try to incorporate the O Antiphons into your preparation for Christmas. In my case, I plan to continue my family’s tradition of singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” when we light our Advent wreath, but this year, in the week leading up to Christmas Day, we’ll be singing all of the verses.
Rebekah is a Catholic stay-at-home mom of three who devotes time to studying the Liturgy of the Word. She enjoys knitting and cross stitch when she finds the time and would be lost without her paper planner. She shares planning and organization ideas at GanchiPlans.com