Quite likely, the best-known Advent hymn is "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," probably because it is considered by many a Christmas carol and makes its way onto numerous Christmas albums. The hymn's haunting and memorable melody complement well its beautiful lyrics, which resound with a deep sense of longing--for ransom, freedom, redemption.
But these wonderful lyrics are actually derived from what the Church knows as the O Antiphons. Beginning on December 17, and continuing on through December 23, the Church's longing for the coming of Christ grows particularly acute, and that longing is expressed through the singing of these seven O Antiphons, each sung on successive evenings as the antiphon to the Magnificat (Gospel canticle) at Vespers (Evening Prayer) on those days.
Each of the O Antiphons consists of two parts: a title or quality ascribed to Jesus Christ and a prophecy from the prophet Isaiah fulfilled in the coming of Christ. While the exact origin of these antiphons is uncertain, there is reference to them as early as the sixth century, and they were in widespread use by the 900s. And, as you may know if you are a Vespers pray-er, they are still used today!
The seven antiphons begin (in Latin and English),
- O Sapientia / O Wisdom...,
- O Adonai / O sacred Lord...,
- O Radix Jesse / O Flower of Jesse's stem...,
- O Clavis David / O Key of David...,
- O Oriens / O Radiant Dawn...,
- O Rex Gentium / O King of all the nations..., and
- O Emmanuel / O Emmanuel (God with us)...
To pray the (Catholic) Liturgy of the Hours (including Vespers/Evening Prayer) each day, visit divineoffice.org.