Of all the carols that grace the Christmas season, none can rival O come, O Come Emmanuel in meditative quality. Translated as Veni, veni, Emmanuel in Latin, and traditionally sung during Advent and Christmas, this ancient hymn speaks of the old Israel longing for the first coming of the Messiah. But it goes beyond that by voicing a yearning for Christ’s second coming to consummate the history of mankind’s redemption. The hymn has a solemn chant-like resonance that makes listening to it a deeply moving experience to Christians and lovers of plainsongs alike.
History of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’
The words and music of this hymn were developed separately. The tune dates to 15th France as a setting for a funeral procession, but the Latin text was first documented in Germany in 1710. Various English versions of the hymn exist, the best-known being the 1861 translation by John Neale. Neal’s original 1851 translation has “Draw nigh, draw nigh” in the first stanza. In the 1861 version, this phrase was changed to “O come, o come”. The hymn has also been translated in other modern languages, notably German.
While there many recordings of the hymn, the one I like most is by the Irish song-writer/singer, Enya, whose beautiful crystalline voice is precisely what this ethereal hymn deserves.