Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Antiphons for Advent

We are approaching Christmas, of course, so here's an article on the O Antiphons. (This webpage is also a good source.) The Advent Antiphons, which date back at least to the ninth century, are probably best known from the fact that in the twelfth century they were reworked by an anonymous source as a French hymn, which was put into Latin at some point between then and the eighteenth century, which Latin version in turn was translated in the nineteenth century by Neale into the lyrics "Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel," which time and much singing has altered to the following (with some variations):

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O Come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, O come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, O Rod of Jesse's stem,
From ev'ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow'r to save;
Bring them in vict'ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O Come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O Come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!


The usual music to which it is sung appears to be Gregorian chant adapted to French plain song adapted to nineteenth century hymnody (often adapted to twentieth century tastes). From generation to generation, from nation to nation, from language to language, from culture to culture, people young and old, rich and poor, have carried forward the Advent message, adapted in words and music but never changed in point: Christ our Lord comes, the Star who brings light to those who live in the darkness and shadow of death.

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