Ancient songs bring new meaning to season

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The Roman Catholic Church has been singing the “O” Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are also incorporated at the opening Antiphons for the daily Mass from December 17 through December 23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah. With joyful hope in the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, they take us to the pinnacle of the Advent season in anticipation of Christmas Eve and the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophesy and promise in the Incarnation.
December 17
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
December 18
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
December 19
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
December 20
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
December 21
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.
December 22
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save mankind, whom you formed from the dust!
December 23
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!

We are most aware of their inspiration in the beloved Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Often the hymns we sing instruct us in the faith with exactly this level of magnificent theology and biblical imagery.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Verse 1
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Verse 2
O Come O Wisdom from on high, who orders all things mightily.
To us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.
Verse 3
O Come, O Come Great Lord of might, who to your tribes on Sinai’s height.
In ancient times once gave the Law in cloud and majesty and awe.
Verse 4
O Come O Rod of Jesse’s stem, from every foe deliver them.
That trust your mighty power to save and give them victory over the grave.
Verse 5
O Come, O Key of David, Come, and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe the way that leads on high and close the path to misery.
Verse 6
O Come, O Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by your drawing nigh.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
Verse 7
O Come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of humankind.
O bid our sad divisions cease, and be for us our King of Peace

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel.
Through the prayerful proclamation of the “O” Antiphons at Mass, or their recitation during the Evening Prayer of the Church, or their use as a personal prayer, or through the singing of O Come O Come Emmanuel in Church, or at home, or through the quiet humming as we go about our Christmas preparations, know that we are praying with the Church throughout the world.
We are the faithful ones who hold are torches aloft, the wise who still seek him, and the angels who proclaim his birth. Indeed, the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There is much in our contemporary world that obscures the light of faith, or strains mightily to extinguish it, but Emmanuel, God with us, until the end of time is the Lord’s personal promise that prevails. May our spiritual journey and preparation not fade or grow dim as we prepare in the knowledge of faith and hope in the coming Messiah.