While shops, television, and radio are filling our ears with Christmas music during the “holiday season”, for Catholics most of the worldly festivity does not take place during Christmas at all. It falls rather, during the liturgical season of Advent.
Unlike the red and green of the secular season, the liturgical colour of Advent is violet – the colour of a penitential season. We use candlelight to soften, not eviscerate, the darkness to invite prayer and introspection. We cease singing the Gloria and our hymns reflect the twofold character of Advent.
One of the most popular Advent hymns is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. The text of this hymn originates with the medieval O Antiphons, one of which is prayed each day in Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours and as the verse for the Alleluia verse of the Gospel Acclamation in the Mass from December 17 – 23.
The O Antiphons introduce us to several names given to the Messiah in the Old Testament. Each of the seven antiphons has three parts:
O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.
Come and show your people the way to salvation.
O sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.
O Radix Jesse
O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all people;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.
O Clavis David
O Key of David,
O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death;
and lead your captive people into freedom.
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
O Rex Gentium
O King of all the nations,
the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man,
come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.
O Emmanuel (“God is with us”)
king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people,
come and set us free, Lord our God.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers