The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Great Antiphons


James Edmondson, Anglia sancta; or, Short homilies for the black letter days of the Church of England (London: G. J. Palmer, 1879), pp. xvi-xix.

For Advent

Words: Veni, Veni, Emanuel (the "O" Antiphons),
Authorship Unknown, 8th Century Latin;
Published: Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, Köln, 1710.

Music: "Veni Emmanuel," 15th Century French Plain Song melody,
Arranged and harmonized by Thomas Helmore in
Hymnal Noted, Part II (London: 1856)
Based on a 15th Century French Processional
(Some sources give a Gregorian, 8th Century origin.)
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
Melody Only: MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

See: Notes on the Great O Antiphons and Veni, Veni, Emmanuel

From the Prologue.

December 16th.

The Fall, depriving man of God's grace, had left him ignorant of God's will. There was need there fore of the eternal wisdom of God. The Church therefore cries :

" O Wisdom, which didst come forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from the one end of all things to the other, and ordering them with sweetness and might : Come, that Thou mayest teach us the way of understanding."

But besides instruction, man required redeeming. He was sold in slavery to sin. Hence the cry :

"O Lord of lords, and Leader of the house of Israel, who didst appear unto Moses in a flame of fire in the bush, and gavest Thy Law in Sinai : Come, that Thou mayest redeem us with Thy stretched out arm."

But he was yet in captivity and sought to be made free. Hence the Church sings :

" O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, before whom kings shall shut their mouths and to whom the Gentiles shall seek : Come, that Thou mayest deliver us ; tarry not, we beseech Thee."

Man was not yet loosed from the bands of sin, the fetters of the prison-house. Hence his next cry :

" O Key of David and Sceptre of the house of Israel ; Thou who openest and no man shutteth, who shuttest and no man openeth : Come, that Thou mayest bring forth from the prison-house him that is bound, sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death."

Long buried in the darkness of the prison-house, his eyes, long unaccustomed to the light, could not see. So he cries :

" O Dawning Brightness of the Everlasting Light and Sun of Righteousness : Come, that Thou mayest enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death."

At last made free, with sight restored, the penalty due to sin must be removed, man must be saved. He cries for salvation :

"O King and Desire of all nations, the Corner-stone uniting all in one : Come, that Thou mayest save man, whom Thou hast formed out of the ground by Thy hand."

The Jews also, formerly God's chosen people, who rejected Messiah when He came, need our prayer :

"O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the expectation and the Saviour of the Gentiles : Come, that Thou mayest save us, O Lord our God."1

These were man's prayers for ages, until holy Simeon, taking the Incarnate One in his arms, begged that he might "depart in peace;" for his eyes had seen God's salvation.

Since the days of the earthly life of the Saviour there have lived Apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs, Doctors, Confessors, Saints and holy Virgins. Mary, the blessed Mother, stands alone for ever "blessed among women." And from above, Michael the Archangel, leader of the army of the heavenly host, witnesses the raging of the battle which he began in heaven, against the serried ranks of the Evil One.

Our path lies chiefly amongst the lesser Saints—men like ourselves—who waged a mighty warfare ; and who either died in martyrdom, suffered in confessorship, or spent heroic lives in the service of God. Beginning then with the Tempus Renovationis or Advent season, we proceed in order through the Calendar.


1. The Church's Antiphons, "The Seven O's," beginning with Dec. 16th. Return

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