Advent -- O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

An Advent Worship Project Using the "O Antiphons" and the Hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"

Many wonderful traditions are connected with Advent. They include seasonal colors and Advent candles. Some churches have a hanging of the greens, and some make Jesse trees.

For many, the singing of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is an important part of the Advent tradition. This very old song is rooted in a tradition that dates back to the singing of the "O Antiphons" begun as early as the twelfth century. The antiphons were—and still in some traditions are—sung in vesper services every night before Christmas, a verse on each of the seven nights. The verses were used to make the famous hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." In early centuries, they were sung in Latin (see the translation included on the suggested handout).

Purpose of This Project

This project will provide meaningful prayers for worship during the Advent season by inviting members of the congregation to compose their own based on the ancient Advent "O Antiphons."

How to Do the Project

1. Assemble a group of people for a session on Advent prayer.

2. Sing the hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."

3. Explore the antiphons using the background information from the first paragraphs above. Make copies of the "O Antiphons" on page 3. Give one to each participant.

4. Help the group discover the "formula" that appears in each verse by saying something like this: When we look at either the "O Antiphons" or the hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," we see that each of the seven verses begins with O, and each carries an image of God. Some of these names and descriptions are familiar, and some are not, but they all have roots in the stories and prophecies of scripture.

(In some hymnals, all seven verses are not included. The New Century Hymnal contains all seven, The Pilgrim Hymnal and Hymnal of the UCC, 1974, include four, and The Hymnal [from the Evangelical and Reformed tradition] has three verses.)

5. Help them look at the way the antiphons are constructed: (for example)

• The first one calls God "wisdom."
• Then it says something about wisdom: "you came forth from the mouth of the Most High
• Next it asks (petitions) God for some action: "Come and teach us..."

Go through several of the antiphons to understand the framework. The same can be done with the hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."

6. Invite the group to write their own antiphons for use in Advent, using the same "formula." Practice doing this as a group: Give God a name that you would like to use, and then a description, and finally, calling upon God for some action (a petition). Make sure everyone sees how these prayers use the "formula" of [name] (O Loving Friend), [description] (steadfast), and [action] (bring your comfort).

For example:
O Loving Friend, you are steadfast in every season of our life. Come, bring your comfort to us today, when life seems so unsure.

7. Pass out 3 x 5 cards and let each person compose their own antiphon prayers, and share some results with each other.

8. Try using them as prayers. Read one or two, light a candle, and sing the refrain from "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" ("Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel will come to you O Israel").

9. Discuss ways the prayers could be used in the worship service. For example, they could be part of the lighting of the Advent candles during each of the Sundays of Advent. They might be used as a beginning liturgy. They might be used during the usual prayer part of the service.

Hopefully, this project will deepen appreciation for not only the traditions surrounding the "O Antiphons" and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," but also for the many images and needs that arise from the community of today.

Oantiphons: An Ancient Advent Litany

Wisdom (O Sapientia in Latin)
O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come, and teach us the way of prudence.

O Adonai, God of the Covenant (O Adonai in Latin)
O Adonai, God of the Covenant and Ruler of the House of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and on Mt. Sinai gave your law. Come and with an outstretched arm redeem us.

O Root of Jesse (O Radix Jesse in Latin)
O Root of Jesse, you stand for a sign for humankind; before you rulers shall keep silent, and to you all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us, and do not delay.

O Key of David (O Clavis David in Latin)
O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel: you open and no one closes; you close and no one opens. Come and deliver from the chains of prison the one who sits without light in the shadow of death.

O Dayspring (O Oriens in Latin)
O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light Eternal and Sun of Justice; come, enlighten those who sit without any light and in the shadow of death.

O Ruler of the Nations (O Rex Gentium in Latin)
O Ruler of the Nations and the Desired of all, you are the keystone that binds two — the Jews and Gentiles — into one. Come and save humankind that you fashioned out of clay.

O God-with-Us (O Emmanuel in Latin)
O Emmanuel, God with Us, our Ruler and Lawgiver, the Expected of Nations and Savior: Come and save us, our Sovereign God.

This project was prepared by Arthur Clyde, Minister for Worship, Music, and Liturgical Arts, Local Church Ministries, a Covenanted Ministry of the United Church of Christ, Cleveland, Ohio.

For more information about worship, liturgy, or the arts, contact the Worship and Education Ministries Team at <> or at 700 Prospect Avenue East, Cleveland, Ohio, 44115-1100.

Copyright 2001 Worship and Education Ministries Team, Local Church Ministries, UCC, Cleveland. Permission is granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved. Designed and printed by United Church Resources, Local Church Ministries.


Rev. Susan A. Blain
Minister for Worship, Liturgy and Spiritual Formation
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115