Thursday of the Third Week of Advent
Although Many of us know the Advent hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel some of the readers of this daily reflection may not realize some interesting aspects of this traditional hymn.
O Come O Come Emmanuel is a collection of seven different antiphons sung at vespers (evening prayer) beginning on December 17 and continue until the Vespers of December 23, the day before the vigil of Christmas. Historians are uncertain when and by whom these antiphons were composed but we do know that the Christian Community used them in Rome in the 700s, thus making them one of the oldest liturgical lyrics that we have. Although the music that we use is different, the words have part of our liturgical tradition for centuries.
Each antiphon has a designation or title given to Jesus that has rich resonance in the Hebrew Scriptures. The following are the designations given to the Messiah taken from the Hebrew Scriptures and their appropriate days on which the following opening words are sung
December 17. O Sapentia O Wisdom O Holy Word of God
December 18 O Adonai O Lord of Ancient Israel
December 19 O Radix Jesse O Flower of the Root of Jesse
December 20 O Clavis David O Key of David
December 21 O Oriens O Radiant Dawn
December 22 O Rex Gentium O King of All Nations
December 23 O Emmanuel O Lord With us.
In addition to proclaiming the titles of the savior, this set of antiphons also announces the nearness of Jesus’ birth. If you reverse the order of the words, starting with the designation of December 23 and take the first letter of each word you have the Latin phrase Ero cras, which means tomorrow I will be here. The next day of course is December 24, the eve of Christmas. Some liturgists argue that the church did not normally incorporate acrostics in their prayer and hence this actually was just a coincidence. Whether the acrostic was coincidence or creative genius we can all agree that the redemptive work of God in Christ has made a difference in the world and we continue that work by imitating the yes of Mary who, by her cooperation, brought Christ into the world.