The Origin of 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel'
St. Benedict Orthodox Church
Celebrating in the Western Rite
of the Antiochian Jurisdiction
As we approach Christmas, we hear so many of those great hymns which we have come to
recognize as Christmas hymns, those wonderful and inspired musical works which praise the
Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. One of my favorites is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” That
enchanting piece is a hymn which I cannot hear or sing enough.

Having said that, it might be worthy of noting that “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is actually
NOT a Christmas hymn. In fact, it is an Advent hymn, and liturgically speaking, the only of
those so-called “Christmas hymns” which is permitted to be sung in the Mass PRIOR TO  25
December.

Indeed, the words of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” are used in the Advents liturgies every
day from 16 December until 23 December. Unlike the Christmas hymns, which were written
as hymns, this Advent hymn was originally [and still is in the Western Orthodox tradition] a
series of Antiphons to be sung with the Magnificat at Vespers each evening from 16 to 23
December.

What do I mean by all of that? Vespers is the evening prayer service said daily in the
Church. In the western tradition [including Western Rite Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and
Anglicans], the Magnificat, which is Luke 1:46b-55, is sung as a separate hymn at every
Vespers service. This has been a practice in Christendom since at least the 6th century. In
the 9th century, the practice was added of including the singing of antiphons with the singing
of the Magnificat. An antiphon is a single verse which is sung responsively by a divided choir
or two groups of singers. Usually, the antiphon provided a theme from which the Magnificat
was to be understood that day. .
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St. Benedict of Nursia
St. Benedict of Nursia Orthodox Church