Dear Friends in Christ,
The popular Advent Hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” took shape in France in the 17th century and was translated into English and set to the hauntingly beautiful plainchant melody we know in the 19th century. But the text of the hymn dates from the 9th century and earlier and is taken from the Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office, the Church’s daily prayer of adoration and praise.
Each evening in the Divine Office, the Church sings Mary’s great hymn of thanksgiving recorded by St. Luke (1.46-55) and called, from the first word of the text in Latin, the Magnificat. Every day of the year, the Magnificat is preceded and followed by a sung verse called an antiphon, and from December 17th to 23rd, this Magnificat antiphon invokes the Lord Jesus by a different Old Testament title. These Great O Antiphons, so called because each begins with the vocative “O”, are a summary of the prophecies about the Messiah and are chanted to a sublime Gregorian melody.
+O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together with your strong yet gentle care. O come to teach us the way of truth. +O Lord of Might and Leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai. O come and save us with your mighty power. +O Stock of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations; kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim. O come to deliver us, and do not delay. +O Key of David and Sceptre of Israel, what you open no one can close; what you close no one can open. O come to lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. +O Rising Sun, you are the splendor of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. +O King of the Nations, whom all peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay. +O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the nations desire and the Savior of all people. O come and save us, Lord our God.
Thus is the New Testament concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament revealed in the New. Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!