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It is Advent, and the time when we sing one of my favorite hymns as Christmas approaches. But O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is not just one of my favorite Christmas hymns (O Holy Night and What Child Is This? are high on the list as well), but it is also the song from which I picked the titles of the three books in the Hallowed Treasures Saga.

Here is a video my husband, Frank, made of O Come, O Come Emanuel:

The song came first. The first two books had several working titles before I decided on The Path to Misery for the first book in the trilogy. But the song appeared early in the first book when the Princess Eluned, Jabberwock, and Bonpo finally make it through the snowstorm in the Mountains of Misericord, and Eluned sings: O come, Thou Key of David, come and open wide our heav’nly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

Once I decided on The Path to Misery for the first book, it made it easy to incorporate lyrics from other verses into the next two books and to choose In Lonely Exile and Death’s Dark Shadows at their titles.

The hymn is a translation of a Latin hymn, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, which is a metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons, a series of plainchant antiphons attached to the Magnificat at Vespers over the final days before Christmas. The 1861 translation, which I used to choose the titles, is from Hymns Ancient and Modern, and is the most used, by far, in the English-speaking world. Because the original song is in Latin, though, you will find many versions with different lyrics by artists who wished to copyright their version.

Each antiphon is a name of Christ, relating one of his attributes mentioned in Scripture. They are:

  • December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
  • December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
  • December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
  • December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
  • December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
  • December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
  • December 23: O Emmanuel (O With Us is God)

According to Fr. William P. Saunders, “The exact origin of the O Antiphons is not known. Boethius (480–524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time [the sixth century]. At the [Benedictine Abbey of Fleury] these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they are in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the O Antiphons was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, Keep your O and The Great O Antiphons were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the O Antiphons have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early Church.”

While the hymn is often linked with the 12th century, the earliest surviving evidence of the hymn’s text is in the seventh edition of Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, which was published in Cologne in 1710. The familiar tune called Veni Emmanuel was first linked to this hymn in 1851, when it appeared in the Hymnal Noted, paired with an early revision of the English translation of the text. In 1966, British musicologist Mary Berry (also an Augustinian canoness and noted choral conductor) discovered a 15th-century French manuscript containing the melody. Most versions are sung to this tune today.

Here is the version from:

Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861)

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

And here is Punk version Frank created: