Today’s and the final O antiphon of the Octave cycle, recited on December 23rd is called “O Emmanuel”.
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, King and lawgiver for us,
the hope of the people and Saviour of them:
Come to our salvation, Lord, our God.
As we read the final O Antiphon, the composer starts with the famous words of Isaiah 7:14 in calling Christ our “Emmanuel”, “God with Us”. The coming Christ is our King, but also, as we are reminded in that first verse, the same one who gave us the law ! It re-emphasizes the triune nature of our God and confirms the deity of Christ as being one and the same that is our King, Lawgiver and Savior..
If you recall from the history article, these antiphons date back at least to the 8th century, perhaps even earlier. And in medieval times, the local laws were very often set by the regional counts, dukes or any lord the serf belonged to. Therefore we could support a more poetic translation of “Legifer Noster” and we could easily use the more common term “Lord” as translation. After all all, it is our Lord who provided us with the Law and there are sufficient Scripture passages referring to Yahweh as Lord. Hence a more poetic translation of this antiphone would sound something like this:
Oh Immanuel, King and Lord
Our hope and salvation
Come and save us, Lord our God
In the traditional Benedictine setting, this would be the last antiphon. The great call “Oh Come Immanuel” at the last Vespers before the Holy Mass on Christmas Eve. We are in glad expectation of the birth of our Savior and are set to celebrate His birth for our salvation.
In most Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some more traditional Protestant denominations, the Christmas Eve mass is actually a midnight mass. I have very fond memories of sitting down for family dinner and then walking through the cracking snow to midnight mass. You would meet the entire neighborhood or village as they quietly (or sometimes not so quietly depending on the beverages served at family dinner) to the local Church.
Some other traditions however, have added an 8th O Antiphon and start the series on December 16th. The last antiphon then becomes “O Virgo Virginum” (O Virgin of Virgins), reprising some of the text of Mary’s magnificat in Luke 1:46-56. This antiphone will add the letter “V” to our Ero Cras acronym as explained in the history article, which could be translated as “Truly, He will come”.
Be that as it may, I prefer the more traditional setting of seven O antiphons. So as we finish the series for this year, we know that the letters used
O Radix Jesse
O Clavis David
O Rex Gentium
Really remind us that ERO CRAS ! Tomorrow He comes !
Gaude, gaude, Emanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
After reading the entire series, you perhaps have a new appreciation for our beloved hymn “Oh Come, Oh Come, Immanuel”. After all it is a syntesis of these seven wonderful pieces of music. So for your final enjoyment, I include a YouTube video of a relatively well known German choir singing the original Latin version of “Oh Come, Oh Come, Immanuel”. You can compare the Latin text, the relation to the seven O antiphons, with a side-by-side English translation here.
Merry Christmas to all !
Ackowledgements and for more information:
Fr, William Saunders, What are the “O Antiphons”
Catholic Culture: The O Antiphons
The Crossroads Initiative: The great “O Antiphons of Advent”
Image courtesy of Catholic Culture