The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Some Additional Antiphons

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


Editor's Note: Much of the next part of this article comes from Everard Green, F.S.A., "On the words 'O Sapientia' in the Kalendar," from Archaelogia, Or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, Vol. 49. (London: Nichols and Sons for the Society of Antiquaries of London, 1885) pp. 219-242. This was a paper read before the Society on December 11, 1884. The initials F.S.A. stands for "Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries."

Translations attributed to "Neale and Helmore" are from John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore, eds., Hymnal Noted - Parts I and II. London: Novello, 1851 and 1856, pp. 207-209, for the translation from The Salisbury Antiphonary.

Translations attributed to Dom Prosper Gueranger are from Dom Prosper Gueranger, OSB, The Liturgical Year, Volume 1, Advent (ca. 1841), translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B., ca. 1867.

While the seven antiphons we've described seem to have formed the core, additional antiphons have been added over the centuries.

Amalarius (c.775–c.850), temporary bishop of Trier (812–13) and Lyon (865–68) in his Liber de Ordine Antiphonarii, cap. 13, adds an 8th, which is also found in the Sarum, York and Hereford Breviaries:—



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Green tells us that the first addition to the Seven "seems to have been made before the year 820, as Amalarius of Metz when he published his invaluable work, De divinis officiis, gives us, besides the seven Roman "O's" the following one, an antiphon to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as it would appear from the Metz Antiphonary:"

VIII. O Virgo Virginum.

O Virgo Virginum, quomodo fiet istud? Quia nec primam similem visa es, nec habere sequentem. Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

He noted also that the sentence beginning "Quia nec primam" was at times rendered as Quia nec prima tui similis visa est, nec habebis sequentem.

O Virgin of Virgins, how shall this come to pass? For neither before thee appeared any like unto thee; nor shall there be one to follow thee. Daughters of Jerusalem, why look ye wondering at me? This is a divine mystery that ye behold. Green, p. 224.

An additional translation from Neale and Helmore:

O Virgin of Virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was there any like thee,
nor shall there be after. —
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing that ye behold is a divine mystery.

According to Julian, this antiphon was found in the Sarum, York, and Hereford Breviaries. According to Cook, it is also included for the feast of the Expectation of the Virgin, Dec. 18.


IX -XIIth Antiphons

The next additions to the great O's are the following from the Codices Forojulienses, which are also to be found  in an 11th Century manuscript at S. Gall:

Translations of these four Great O's into English by Mr. Green is found on p. 226 of his article.


IX. O Gabriel! nuntius cœlorum. (O Gabriel! the messenger of heaven)

O Gabriel! nuntius cœlorum, qui januis clausis ad me intrasti, et Verbum nunciasti: Concipies et paries: Emanuel vocabitur.

O Gabriel! the messenger of heaven, who camest to me when the doors were shut, and didst announce unto me the Word: "Thou shalt conceive and bear a Son: He shall be called Emmanuel."

An additional Translation from Dom Prosper Gueranger:

O Gabriel! the messenger of heaven, who camest unto me through the closed doors, and didst announce the Word unto me: Thou shalt conceive and bear a Son, and he shall be called Emmanuel. (December 20)  

This Antiphon has also been used on the feast of the Annunciation of the B. V. M. See: Luke 1:26-38, The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


X. O Rex pacifice, tu ante saecula nate. (O King of peace! that wast born before all ages)

O Rex pacifice, tu ante saecula nate, per auream egredere portam, redemptos ruos visita, et eos illue revoca, unde ruerrunt per culpam.

O King of peace! that wast born before all ages, come by the Golden Gate, visit Thy redeemed, and call them back to the place from whence by sin they fell.

An additional Translation from Dom Prosper Gueranger:

O King of peace! that wast born before all ages, come by the golden gate; visit them whom thou hast redeemed, and lead them back to the place whence they fell by sin. (December 22)


XI. O Hierusalem! civitas Dei summi. (O Jerusalem! city of the great God).

O Jerusalem! civitas Dei summi, leva in circuitu oculos tuos, et vide Dominum Deum tuum, quia jam veniet solvere te a vinculis.

O Jerusalem! city of the great God, lift up thine eyes round about, and see the Lord thy God, who now cometh to loose thee from thy chains.

An additional Translation from Dom Prosper Gueranger:

O Jerusalem! city of the great God: lift up thine eyes round about, and see thy Lord, for he is coming to loose thee from thy chains. (December 23)


XII. O mundi Domina, regio ex semine orta. (O Lady of the World, sprung of Royal Race). Green, pp 225-6.

O mundi Domina, regio ex semine orta, ex tuo jam Christus processit alvo, tanquam sponsus de thalamo; hie jacet in præsepio, qui sidera regit.

O Lady of the World, sprung of Royal Race, now hath Christ come forth from thy womb as a bridegroom from His chamber: Here lieth He in the crib who ruleth the stars. 

An additional translation from Neale and Helmore.

"O mistress of the world, sprung of royal seed: from thy womb did Christ go forth as a bridegroom from his chamber; here he who ruleth the stars lieth in the manger."  

At several sites, this Antiphon to Mary was recited on Christmas Eve, called the Night of Mary in some traditions. Green, pp 225-6. One source refers us to Psalm 19:5 (May he give thee according to thy own heart; and confirm all thy counsels.). (December 18)

In some other French monasteries, and "from the days of Lanfranc at Canterbury", another Antiphon was substituted for this one, O Beata Infantia.


XIII. O Beata Infantia / O Blessed Childhood.

O Beata Infantia, per quam nostri generis reparata est vita. O gratissimi delectabilesque vagitus, per quos eternos ploratus evasimus. O felices panni, quibus peccatorum sordes extersimus. O praesepe splendidum, in quo non solum jacuit foenum animalium, sed cibus inventus est Angelorum.

O Blessed Childhood, by which is made anew the life of our race. O wailing sweet and loveable, whereby we have escaped everlasting wailings. O happy swaddling bands, wherewith we have wiped off he soil of sin. O royal manger, wherein, not only lay the hay of beasts, but where, too, was found the food of Angels.

Lanfranc was Archbishop of Canterbury; he died there on May 24, 1089. Green, p. 227.


XIV. O Thoma Didyme / O Thomas Didymus. This Antiphon from the Sarum and York Breviaries is to St. Thomas the Apostle, whose feast is Dec. 21. It was found in several French breviaries as well. This antiphon is more modern than O Gabriel, which if often replaces, and dates from the 13th century. Green, pp. 227-8.

O Thoma Didyme, per Christum quem meruisti tangere; te precibus rogamus altisonis succurre nobis miseris, ne damnemur cum impiis in Adventu Judicia.

O Thomas Didymus, by that Christ whom it was vouchsafed to thee to touch; fervently we cry unto thee and say, Help us, miserable sinners, lest we be condemned with the ungodly at the coming of the Judge.

An additional Translation from Dom Prosper Gueranger:

O Thomas Didymus! who didst merit to see Christ; we beseech thee, by most earnest supplication, help us miserable sinners, lest we be condemned with the ungodly, at the coming of the Judge. (December 21)


XV. O Summe Artiflex / O Great Architect. p. 228.

This Great O was found in the Liege Breviary, and was referred to as the 12th Antiphon. It was sung on Dec. 23. Green, p. 228.

O Summe Artifex, polique Rector siderum altissime; ad homines descende, sedente3s in tenebris et umbra mortis.

O Great Architect, and most high Ruler of the Heavens; come down to men, sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.


Antiphons XVI - XX.

We are also told that the breviaries of the Parisian Rite have five additional Great O's. O Sancte Sanctorum and O Pastor Israel are said to date from 1680; the other three are from later dates. Green, pp. 228-9.

XVI. O Sancte Sanctorum / O Holy of Holies

O Sancte Sanctorum, Speculum sine macula Dei majestatis, et imago bonitatis illius: Beni, ut deleatur iniquitas, et adducatur justitia sempiterna.

O Holy of Holies, Mirror without spot of the majesty of God and image of His goodness: Come, blot out iniquity, and bring back everlasting justice.


XVII. O Pastor Israel / O Shepherd of Israel

O Pastor Israel, et Dominator in domo David: cujus egressus ab initio, a diebus æternitatis: Veni, ut pascas populum tuum in fortitudine, et regnes in justitia et judicio.

O Shepherd of Israel, and Ruler in the House of David, whose going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity: Come, and feed Thy peoiple in strength, and reign in justice and judgment.


XVIII. O Bone Pastor, qui requiris / O Good Shepherd, Who Seekest

O Bone Pastor, qui requiris et visitas oves: Veni, et libera eas de omnibus loicis in quibus dispersæ fuerant in die nubis et caliginis.  

O Good Shepherd, Who Seekest and Visitest the sheep: Come, and free them in all places whither they were scattered in the days of clouds and darkness.

Green notes: "Vide Breviaries of Auxerre, Avranches, and Rouch (Revised)." Green, p. 228-9.


XIX. O Bone Pastor, Vista gregem tuum / O Good Shepherd, Visit Thy Flock

O Bone Pastor, Vista gregem tuum, require quod periit, reduc quod abjectum, consolida quod infirmum; ut impositas in humeros oves, in judicio pascas, et ad vitm fontes aquarum deducas. 

O Good Shepherd, Visit Thy Flock, seek the strayed, raise up the fallen, strengthen the weak, and so feed in justice the sheep which Thou bear4est upon Thy shoulders, and bring them to the fountains of living water.

Green notes: "Vide Breviaries of Sens ande Langres." Green, p. 228-9.


XX. O Domine, fac mirabilia / O Lord, Work Great Marvels.

O Domine, fac mirabilia, cogitationes antiquas fideles: Virgo pariat filium: muliie3r conterat caput serpentia: hoc eric memoriale nominis tui, cum manus feminæ dejecerit eum. 

O Lord, Work Great Marvels, Thy fraithful counsels of old: let the Virgin bring forth a Son: let the Woman bruise the serpent's head: for this shall be a memorial of Thy Name when the hand of the Woman hath cast him down.

Green notes: "Vide Breviaries of Noyon, Sens, and Auxerre." He also notes that at Noyon it began O Sancte Sanctorum Domine fac mirabilia. It is constructed from Isaiah 25:1; Isaiah 7:14; Genesis 3:15; and Judith 9:5. Green, p. 229. The following quotations are from the Douay-Rheims (1899).

Green noted that while the Advent Antiphons were usually chanted before and after the Magnificat, at Paris and some other churches, the Antiphons were also chanted after the Gloria Patri and after the Sicut erat. Green, pp. 229.

Many of Green's notes and comments are supported by (sometimes) lengthy Latin quotations. But even lacking a working knowledge of Latin, his article is valuable reading.

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