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O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

One of the most beloved songs of the Advent season is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. The stanzas of this song are a collection of antiphons. An antiphon (Greek ἀντίφωνον, ἀντί "opposite" and φωνή "voice") is a short phrase sung as a response. For example, when we echo the cantor’s singing of the psalm response, that is an antiphon.

The antiphons that make up O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, are often called the “Great Antiphons of Advent.” Traditionally each one is chanted before and after the Magnificat at Evening Prayer during the latter part of Advent. Each antiphon expresses a prayer that God will bring to fulfillment what Mary expresses in the Magnificat: “[God] has come to the aid of his child Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever (Luke 1:54-55).

If you light an Advent wreath at home, you might want to include the antiphons as part of your devotion. Here they are:

  • Dec 17: O WISDOM, who came forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end, and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

  • Dec 18: O ADONAI and Leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flames of the bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come, and with your outstretched arm redeem us.

  • Dec 19: O ROOT OF JESSE, who stands for an ensign of the people, before whom kings shall keep silence and to whom the Gentiles shall make their supplication: Come and deliver us and tarry not.

  • Dec 20: O KEY OF DAVID and scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no one shuts, who shuts and no one opens: Come, and bring forth from prison the captive who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

  • Dec 21: O DAYSPRING, Brightness of the light eternal and Sun of justice: Come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

  • Dec 22: O KING OF THE GENTILES and their Desired One, Cornerstone that makes both one: Come and deliver us whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.

  • Dec 23: O EMMANUEL, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Rejoice! Emmanuel (God with us) is coming!

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