Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Hymn and a Prayer: Veni, Veni Emmanuel

One of my favorite hymns during this time of the Liturgical year is Veni, Veni Emmanuel. The original Latin hymn was taken from Psalteriolum Cantionum, Colgne, 1710. If you are not familiar with the lyrics in Latin, here they are:

Veni, Veni Emmanuel
Captivum solve Israel! 
Qui gemit in exsilio, 
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. 


Veni, Veni O Oriens
Solare nos adveniens, 
Noctis depelle nebulas, 
Dirasque noctis tenebras. 


Veni, Clavis Davidica
Regna reclude caelica, 
Fac iter tutum superum, 
Et claude vias inferum. 


Veni, Veni Adonai
Qui populo in Sinai 
Legem dedisti vertice, 
In Majestate gloriae. 


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


Veni, Veni, Rex gentium
Veni, Redemptor omnium, 
Ut salvas tuos famulos 
Peccati sibi conscios. 


Saint's Faith Blog
Notice that this hymn contains the O Antiphons which are sung or recited at Vespers of the last seven days in Advent.  Each Antiphon is the name of Christ which are mentioned in Sacred Scriptures as Messianic Prophecies of the Lord Jesus Christ.. Therefore, "O Come Emmanuel" is a lyrical paraphrase of these antiphons.

The importance of “O Antiphons” is twofold:
  • Each one highlights a title for the Messiah and 
  • each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah. 
Let’s now look at each antiphon with just a sample of Isaiah’s related prophecies. Then thre's another interesting tid-bit, the Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose, see the first letters of the titles taken backwards form a Latin acrostic of "Ero Cras" (Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia) which translates to "Tomorrow, I will come", mirroring the theme of the antiphons.

Each one is used on a different day during the last week of Advent as we approach the Nativity of our Lord and Savior.  These are:
  • December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom) 
  • December 18: O Adonai (O Lord) 
  • December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse) 
  • December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David) 
  • December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring) 
  • December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations) 
  • December 23: O Emmanuel (O God is with Us)
According to Fr. William Saunders:
"The exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known. Boethius (c. 480-524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they are in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the “O Antiphons” was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, “Keep your O” and “The Great O Antiphons” were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the “O Antiphons” have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early Church."  (Source:  Catholic Education Resource Center)

Here is the English translation {translated by John M. Neale (1818-1886)}:
December 17, O Wisdom 
O Come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things mightily
To us the path of knowledge show
And teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.
December 18, O Lord and Ruler
O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might:
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
In Ancient times did give the law
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.
December 19, O Root of Jesse
O Come, thou rod of Jesse's stem,
From ev'ry foe deliver them
That trust Thy mighty power to save,
And give them victory o'er the grave.
December 20, O Key of David
O Come, thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav'nly home,
Make safe the way that leads on high,
That we no more have cause to sigh.
December 21, O Dawn of the East
O Come, Thou Dayspring from on High
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadow put to flight.
December 22, O King of the Gentiles
O Come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid every strife and quarrel cease
And fill the world with heaven's peace.
December 23, O Emmanuel
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.


O Sapientia (December 17) O Wisdom (Eccl 24: 5), you came forth from the mouth of the Most High (Sir 24: 30), and reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly (Wis 8: 1). Come, and teach us the way of prudence (Isa 40: 14).
O Adonai (December 18) O Adonai or O Lord and Ruler(Exod 6: 13) and Ruler of the house of Israel (Matt 2: 6), you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush (Exod 3: 2), and on Mount Sinai gave him your Law (Exod 20). Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us (Jer 32: 21).
O Radix Jesse (December 19) O Root of Jesse, you stand for the ensign of all mankind (Isa 11: 10); before you kings shall keep silence and to you all nations shall have recourse (Isa 52: 15). Come, save us, and do not delay (Hab 2: 3).
O Clavis David (December 20) O Key of David (Apoc 3: 7) Scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens (Isa 22: 22). Come, and deliver him from the chains of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death (Ps 107: 10).
O Oriens (December 21) O Rising Dawn (Zac 6: 12), Radiance of the Light eternal (Hab 3: 4) and Sun of Justice (Mal 3: 20); Come, enlighten those who sit in darkness & the shadow of death (Ps 107: 10; Lk 1: 78).
O Rex Gentium (December 22) O King of the Gentiles(Hag 2: 8), Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one (Eph 2: 20). Come, and save poor man whom you fashion out of clay (Gen 2: 7).
O Emmanuel (December 23) O Emmanuel (Isa 7: 14; 8: 8), our King and Lawgiver (Gen 49:10; cf. Ezek 21: 32), the Expected of the nations and their Savior (Isa 33: 22): Come, and save us, O Lord our God.

Activity Source: Original Text (JGM) by Jennifer Gregory Miller, © Copyright 2003-2009 by Jennifer Gregory Miller  {Source: Catholic Culture}

I love the idea of reviving the old monastic custom of doing something special on each day before Christmas which is another way to celebrate the "O Antiphons" in the family atmosphere. Here's a list of blogs or websites with crafts for the O' Antiphons for some ideas:

O Night Divine

In the Heart of My Home

Waltzing Matilda

Just Another Day in Paradise
Under Her Starry Mantle

Under Her Starry Mantle
By Sun and Candle Light

O Antiphon House

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!
Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!
Chaste guardian of the Virgin, St. Joseph, pray for us!
Our best friends, our guardian angels, pray for us!

Pax Christi,

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