Saturday, November 24, 2012

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Here is another hymn! Now, it is after Thanksgiving, so it is officially okay to start writing about (and listening to) Christmas Hymns! Please, enjoy, and share with friends!

Title: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Tune: Veni Emmanuel (Chant)


Composer: Unknown(adapted by Thomas Helmore 1811-1890)

Author/Translator: John Mason Neale (1818-1866)

          Dating all the way back to the 8th century, the seven verse poem was originally used for the Vespers, or evening worship. Each verse of the poem begins with another Old Testament name for the Messiah, creating a reverse acrostic (an acrostic appears when the first letter of each stanza can be used to spell a word), the text spells out "ero cras," which translates to "I shall be with you tomorrow," which makes this hymn a perfect fit for an Advent worship service. Though we see the hymn with a refrain in our modern day hymnals, the original poem did not contain the refrain (the refrain was added when the text was translated). The hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is a part of a musical sequence for an advent service, which starts with a responsive reading and eventually connects "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," "Come Though Long Expected Jesus," and "Joy to the World" by using musical segues. Though this poem has existed for around thirteen-hundred years, it wasn't until 1851 that one J.M. Neale would come along and translate the text from Latin in to English.
          Born in Conduit Street, London, in 1818, John Mason Neale would live to have an incredible life, full of love for the church, as well as notoriety for his works on translations, not only from Latin to English, but from Greek to English as well. Being that J.M. Neale was the son of Rev. Cornelius Neale, a well educated man who was a Fellow at St. John's College at Cambridge, and a mother born to John Mason, another very well educated man, J.M. Neale was a brilliant student in his day. Both of Neale's parents were "very pronounced Evangelicals" and thus he was raised to be this way as well. At the age of five, J.M.'s father had passed away, leaving the sole responsibility of Neale's education to his mother. This attachment can be seen in letters that have been written in the later years of Neale's life stating things such as "a mother to whom I owe more than I can express." Neale began his education career at the Sherborne Grammar School, and eventually he became a private student of Rev. William Russel (rector of Shepperton) and of Professor Challis. In 1836, Neale began studying at Trinity College in Cambridge, where he had earned himself a full scholarship, and was considered to be one of the best students in his class. Though he was very intelligent, Neale did not inherit his fathers mathematical abilities, and there for was not able to graduate with a Classical Honours because of a rule that the college had, stating that anyone who did not have a mention of Mathematics on their degree could no graduate with honours. 
          During his time at Cambridge, Neale associated himself with the church movement on campus, creating the group called Ecclesiological, or better known as The Cambridge Camden Society. in 1842, Neale married Sarah Norman Webster, who was the daughter of a Clergyman, and in 1843, he was offered an incumbency of Crawley in Sussex. Due to ill health, however, Neale was not able to accept the living, and had to find a different occupancy. It was found that Neale's lungs were too delicate for the cold air, and he was encouraged to move to Madeira, where he stayed until the Summer of 1844. In 1846 Neale was introduced by Lord Delaware to the Wardenship of Sackville College, East Grinstead. Though he had sought to work in the church, the only Ecclesiastical offer Neale ever received did not fair well for him. Neale was offered a Provostship at St. Ninian's, Perth, but the job was not very lucrative, earning him just shy of ₠100 a year. Because of the low pay and unfavorable climate for his delicate health, Neale was forced to decline the offer. Because of his health and the lack of availability of jobs, Neale remained in East Grinstead for the rest of his short life, splitting his time between his literary works, and caring for the small sisterhoods that he had founded in the town.
          On the topic of his literary works, Neale is known around the world for the accuracy and the spirit or his translations from Latin to English. A short note written about Neale and his translations, written by "G.M." illustrates Neale's appreciation for translation as well as his ability: Dr. Neale "was invited by Mr. Keble and the Bishop of Salisbury to assist them with their new hymnal, and for this purpose he paid a visit to Hursley Parsonage." On one occasion Mr. Keble "having to go to another room to find some papers was detained a short time. On his return Dr. Neale said, ‘Why, Keble, I thought you told me that the "Christian Year" was entirely original.' ‘Yes,' he answered, 'it certainly is.' ‘Then how comes this?' and Dr. Neale placed before him the Latin of one of Keble's hymns. Keble professed himself utterly confounded. He protested that he had never seen this 'original,' no, not in all his life. After a few minutes Neale relieved him by owning that he had just turned it into Latin in his absence." (Julian, John, Dictionary of Hymnology, 1907). Because Neale had an ear for melody as well, he was able to maintain the rhythm of pieces, while still maintaining the spirit of the text by only altering it slightly. Eventually, Neale was criticized by the Catholic Church for having left out many parts of the original hymns that referred to doctrines that were followed only by the Catholic Church and not by the Anglican Church. The Catholic Church called his translations "utter misrepresentations" of they hymns, but it is understandable why Neale would leave out certain doctrines for the church. It wasn't until 1852 that the hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" appeared in one of Neale's publications. The book was entitled Hymnal Noted, containing 105 different hymns, 94 of which were translated by Neale himself. In 1865, Neale published one last volume of hymns, which contained the translation of the hymn printed side-by-side with the original text, which allowed the readers to compare the text. 
          The tune Veni Emmanuel is an unknown plainchant hymn, that was written in the 15th century. Originally written for a Requiem Mass,  the tune was later adapted by Thomas Helmore in 1854. Published in Part II of Hymnal Noted, the tune was paired with J.M. Neale's translation of the text. Helmore graduated from Oxford College in England, and eventually became ordained as a Pastor of the Anglican Church, but most of his contributions to the church came from his music. Helmore was a Precentor at St. Mark's College in Chelsea (1842-1877) as well as master of the Choristers in the Chapel Royal for many years. Helmore played a big role in supporting unaccompanied masses, and played a big part in returning Plainchant to the Anglican church. The tune "Veni, Emmanuel," is written in Dorian mode, and is mostly sung in unison, although the refrain is often sung in parts, adding to the contrast of Minor tonality verses and Major tonality refrains. 

The Text:

(1) 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.

(2) O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

(3) O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

(4) O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

(5) O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

(6) O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

(7) O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

My Take on the Hymn:

          This hymn reminds me of advent so very much, not only because of its familiarity with the season, but  also because of the hopeful longing that comes with the text. Each stanza begins with another way of asking for Christ to come, while the response (found in the refrain) is telling us all to rejoice in the fact the one day soon, Christ will come to us and everything we have been promised will come true. The text uses many different examples of the promises that Christ has given us, the power over death, the key to the gates of Heaven, the wisdom to show us the path of Knowledge, and all things that have been given to us that are saved by the power of Christ. The hymn is beautifully paired with the text, because both portray a message of longing. the minor tonality of the verses allows us to ponder the awaiting coming of Christ, much as a child would long to see what is to come on Christmas day, but the pain of having to wait all night can still be felt. The major tonality of the refrain is the excitement of knowing that no matter what happens, no matter how long we will have to wait, the promise will be fulfilled, and we will one day find our home at peace in Christ and, in our Heavenly homes, his voice will ring for ever and ever, shouts of Praise and Amen to God our King!

The Hymn:

If you cannot read music, just start the Youtube video and follow along!


Julian, John. "J. M. Neale." - Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2012. <>.

Handbook, Psalter Hymnal. "VENI EMMANUEL (Chant)." Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2012. <>.

Scheer, Greg. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2012. <>.

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