O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

 
Something to listen to while you read. Sheet music available at Sheet Music Plus.

One of our oldest, still active hymns, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, comes from a seven verse poem dating back to the 8th century. The poem created the reverse acrostic “ero cras” (I shall be with you tomorrow) – particularly appropriate for Advent. In the 13th century, five of the seven verses of the poem appeared as a metrically sung version (as opposed to the original chanted version) and then, in 1851, John Mason Neale, an Anglican priest and hymnwriter, translated the verses into English.

Over the years, changes to O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’s text occurred gradually and there are many variations but, unlike some hymns, there are no significant disputes about a “correct” text to use. One common and consistent change to the original poem, though, is the use of an added refrain: “Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel”.

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus with O Come O Come Emmanuel Piano Sheet Music

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel nearly always uses the tune Veni Emmanuel thanks to Thomas Helmore (1811-1890), an Anglican priest, choirmaster, and author/editor of hymns and carols. During a time of renewed interest in plainchant, Helmore matched the text with music originally from a Requiem Mass in a 15th century French Franciscan processional and published the hymn in Part II of his The Hymnal Noted (1854).

Today, the Dorian mode of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’s tune may sound slightly exotic to modern ears and the text may be revised, but the theme of hope and longing in a strife-torn world still echos clearly down through the centuries.

May we find peace and comfort in its prayer.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.

– verse translated by H. S. Coffin (1916)