Use of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" during Mass
  • daniel
    Posts: 75
    I try to match hymns to reflect the Entrance and Communion Antiphons as much as possible. "O Come O Come Emmanuel" doesn't seem to fit any of the Advent Entrance or Communion Antiphons from the Roman Missal. Is that because it's an Office Hymn and was never intended for use at Mass?
  • Daniel,

    Originally, what you see as the verses of a hymn are the "O antiphons" -- the antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers in the week before Christmas. ("O" in this case refers to the first word of each).

    So, the hymn isn't really a hymn by provenance, but a collection of (admittedly related) prophecies glued together from elsewhere in the public worship of the Church.


    There is nothing whatsoever which requires the use of "O come, O come Emmanuel" during Advent, regardless of how popular the piece is. It can't be required at Mass by anyone on any grounds whatsoever. Those without any ground except "I like it", or "It's self evident" can be safely ignored. (Having said that, if you ignore these people, you should prepare a resume and look elsewhere).

    If you're trying to match the Introit (the technical name for the Entrance antiphon) and the Communion Antiphon, why not just use these texts, even if you have to
    use them in the vernacular and with music other than what is in the Liber Usualis?


  • It can't be required at Mass by anyone on any grounds whatsoever.


    Yes, it can: the Pastor can specifically request it for all 4 Sundays and then threaten you with termination for insubordination if you don't comply.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,224
    Let’s rephrase it and say that no one has any basis for requiring it... And they have no right to require it.
  • But if they sign the pay check, they do have a right to require it.

    We must always remember we do not work for the church, we work for the priest who signs the checks.

    In the same way a parish priest does not work for the church, he works for the local bishop.

    Does a priest sign a pledge to always refer to and follow carefully what the rules are in the GIRM?
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,280
    And in the world of picking out hymns instead of chanting propers, there's really nothing wrong with singing it at Mass.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,087
    I have twenty-one Advent hymns in my hymnal. Four or five of them are so bad I would never use them. The rest get divided among the Sundays of the season. It is what it is.
  • We sing it every Sunday in advent. (We also do the propers.) I can think of much more troubling things that might be imposed on us.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,087
    I think Cooney walked in that rain a little too long...
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  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,517
    It's a chant hymn that people love. People are ASKING to sing CHANT. Sing it - and Creator of the Stars of Night - often and make people happy. It's one of those requests that we should be happy to fulfill unlike "hey.. can we sing X" - when X usually is always something or either poor musically, theologically, poetically, etc.
  • The only thing really wrong with 'O come, O come, Emmanuel' is not actually a thing wrong with it, but with its over-use. I'm very happy (as in ecstatic) that we haven't sung it at Walsingham this year (except this evening at Lessons and Carols). It's a very nice hymn that is absolutely ruined by ubiquitous repetition.

    As for the above opinions that he who writes the check has the 'right' to demand it. This is patently wrong. He has the power - not the right, just as he has the power to forbid chant, but neither the right nor the authority. What's right is what's morally justifiable and done with genuine authority as opposed to imposed by power and position.

    Still - if the only thing one had to complain about was singing this hymn one should consider one's self fortunate. I have heard it done adding successive stanzas throughout Advent. This is nice (once or twice), but it gets old. Too bad we don't live in a liturgical world in which the antiphons themselves were sung during the week before the Christ Mass. (Actually, to me the most boring thing about this hymn is not the verses themselves but that refrain, which really gets tiresome. Does anyone else feel that way?)
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,224
    MJO said what I was trying to articulate. I also agree it is overused.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,166
    Singing the same two verses of it, four times, is also an Impoverished Practice.
  • the Pastor can specifically request it for all 4 Sundays and then threaten you with termination for insubordination if you don't comply.


    But if they sign the pay check, they do have a right to require it.


    As for the above opinions that he who writes the check has the 'right' to demand it. This is patently wrong. He has the power - not the right, just as he has the power to forbid chant, but neither the right nor the authority. What's right is what's morally justifiable and done with genuine authority as opposed to imposed by power and position.



    I think I addressed all of these when I said

    if you ignore these people, you should prepare a resume and look elsewhere
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  • fcbfcb
    Posts: 244
    Given that it is likely at most to be sung four times a year, I'm not sure how it could be overused.

    Of course, my fondness for it has only increased in recent years as I've encountered people who make the silly claim that the hymn is somehow anti-Jewish.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,087
    Still - if the only thing one had to complain about was singing this hymn one should consider one's self fortunate.


    Yep! It could be eagles wings, so maybe singing "O Come..." is not so bad in comparison.
    Thanked by 2Carol RedPop4
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,224
    Deacon, if people can use it only on the last Sunday of Advent when the “O antiphons” are actually sung at Vespers, then using it on all 4 Sundays is too much. That's a funny response, though.
  • Here's a proposal;


    Let us (musicians) encourage the praying of Vespers, so that these antiphons can have their proper place. It will partly fulfill the mandate of the Council to expand FCAP.
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  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,224
    And the mandate to have more public celebrations of the Office!
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  • We have a couple of solutions here, and they include the use of Finale and complete worship aids, and no use of hymnals or Missalettes (at least for the music section).

    1. Entrance Procession can't use all the verses. So I have two versions: verses 1, 2, 3, & 6; and verse 2, 4, 5, & 7. We use it only two Sundays in Advent.

    2. For Communion at yesterday's EF Mass, all verses including an 8th verse that I wrote based on the eighth "O Antiphon" in the back of The English Hymnal (1936).
    6012 x 7187 - 4M
  • We used it for the first Sunday in Advent as the procession hymn... but that is it thus far.
  • This whole conversation seems a little overwrought in the propriety dept.
    My EF church:
    Advent 1, "O come" as processional/recessional (we split the hymn, because 1 or 2 verses of 2 hymns is silly); "Veni veni" after the offertory antiphon.
    Advent 2. "Creator of the stars of night" and "Creator alme siderum", as above
    Advent 4: "O antiphon of the day" for offertory motet.

    People seem to like it, and it's what my handful of guys can do easily.
  • Carol
    Posts: 229
    I am new to this forum, but as Advent is almost here I would like to resurrect this discussion about "O Come O Come Emmanuel." As a volunteer song leader, I am disappointed that pastors are currently discouraging the use of "O Come.." in the early weeks of Advent. I love this hymn and as someone said above it is one of the only acceptable hymns to my way of thinking. Especially for those of us who are accompanied by guitar. I am going along with my pastor's wishes, but that means most church goers will sing this song only twice a year. If your are a paid church musician, maybe you get tired of it, but the parishioners do love it.
  • Carol,


    Welcome to the forum.


    Given what the verses of Veni, Veni Emmanuel are, they are best used between the 17th and the 23rd of December. That means, most of the time, they are used only once a year. This year, they could be used twice. Many moons ago, I used a single verse of this hymn as the beginning of the carols before Mass. I know it's very popular, and popularity isn't necessarily a bad thing ( since some things which are popular are also good) but I think that which is saved for special occasions gains by its intentional limitation.
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  • A cursory look suggests that the Gospel Acclamations from Dec 17 onwards are based on the O Antiphons.
    Thanked by 1RedPop4
  • This year, they could be used twice.


    This is rather misleading, especially to a new forum member, IMHO.

  • KyleM18
    Posts: 128
    Discouraging its use is based on its proper liturgical use. I much prefer using it to other stuff, especially what is played on guitar most of the time ("Ready the Way" or "A Voice Cries Out).
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  • Carol
    Posts: 229
    That's okay, I believe I read most all of the posts and I do understand. I have been involved in Church music in some way for the past 40+ years. I share some of the frustrations I see in these posts. My husband and I have had many discussions about the current problems with liturgical music of today. Our parish just reordered OCP for next year. I have a fair understanding of liturgy, and I have known the origin of the" O Antiphons" for a long time. I know the reasoning behind saving the hymn for Dec. 17th onward, but I also would like more suggestions for decent hymns for Advent. I see that this site is interested in more traditional music. I don't care if it's old or new- I care if it is theologically sound first and foremost. Then is it musically written and is it singable for a congregation as I see myself as a leader. I can do solos elsewhere, my role is to encourage the faithful to participate in the Mass by singing. Some of the hymns meant for guitar accompaniment are poorly written, in my opinion, and some are not scriptural.
    I get the feeling most of those on this site are from large city parishes. We are mostly volunteer musicians and we want to do our best, because this part of the Mass.
    We use "The Advent of our King" and although it jumps around alot on guitar, it is possible to do a decent job.

    Sorry have to go to traditional choir practice. But will look forward to any more comments you may have.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,087
    The "O" antiphons are not part of the mass to begin with so I don't spend much time worrying about them when planning mass music. My parish doesn't do Vespers and I expect, most don't. Folks in the congregation have no connection with Vespers or much knowledge of antiphons from it. "O Come..." is one of the selections in the hymnal for Advent. I program it somewhere during Advent and don't over-think it.
  • I was not aware of any 'movement' amongst clerics against using 'O come...Emanuel' throughout Advent, but it would seem to be well advised. Reserving it to the last Sunday seems appropriate, given its history.
    Some have really 'highlighted' this hymn by stretching it out serially through the season. This would seem harmless, perhaps interesting, but really causes a thematic centreing of this (or any) hymn, and an undue emphasis on this or any hymn which is essentially mistaken in conception.
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  • Does it really matter? If a pastor is seriously interested in sacred music, the parishes music will develop along those lines. If he doesn't care about sacred music and just wants to give his parishioners what he thinks they want, then what does it matter about any hymn or song chosen? Is worship determined by what God asks for Himself or what the people want, which is generally sentimentality.

    Speaking of sentimentality, Christmas music has been playing in stores since before Halloween; that's part of the Christmas "spirit" that is really sacred around here in the South. It really chaps me that religious music is used to sell stuff, but the merchants here have learned that's what gets people in the buying mood.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,087
    I heard Christmas music in Walmart some time ago. Of course, I also saw Sasquatch in front of the ice cream freezer and witnessed a miracle, as well. The battery in the electric cart a lady in bad physical condition was riding stopped in the middle of the aisle. She got off it and walked away. Miracles do happen! Lots of purple bold.
    Thanked by 1RedPop4
  • , Christmas music has been playing in stores since before Halloween;


    I knew there was a reason to be glad that I don't go shopping.



    To the Original Poster,

    I didn't mean to be confusing, and I hope I wasn't.

    If we use the whole of the season of Advent for preparation, that preparation takes place in stages. In the revised Calendar, the shift to a focus on the impending birth of the Savior only with the 3rd Sunday suggest waiting until then. "Emmanuel nascetur pro te, Israel" draws our attention to the approach of the birth.
  • Carol
    Posts: 229
    I am the original poster on Nov. 14th and I thank all of you for your comments. Could you please translate the Latin? Is it 'Emmanuel is born for us, Israel'? The sentimentality comment stung a little although I don't think it was meant to- guilty as charged. However, I also do think that the meaning of the verses of "O Come O Come ..." is about more than the Incarnation and the fulfillment of the promise of a Saviour, I think the prayers of the verses are still applicable to today's world. I see it as about the Second Coming as much as it is about the Incarnation and Birth of the Lord Jesus.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,332
    I think nascetur is future tense: Emmanuel will be born for you, Israel.
    Thanked by 2Carol RedPop4
  • tsoapm
    Posts: 79
    I don’t know Latin, but Perseus seems pretty clear: future.
  • Carol
    Posts: 229
    According to Google: "Emmanuel shall come to you, Israel." I should have realized it was from the refrain. Mrs. Mason, my old Latin teacher, would be disappointed that I don't remember the name for that tense.
  • Carol,

    Let me push the analogy a little further. Advent is the 9th month of the pregnancy of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At some point in the 9th month, attention switches to the needs of the mother. We can't help the baby yet, much, except by helping the mother. If we celebrate the birth before it happens....... but if we spend all 4 weeks of Advent saying "Any day now"......... Just as we prepare our houses for Christmas in stages, we should allow our music to progress.
    Thanked by 1RedPop4
  • Carol
    Posts: 229
    I will have to give that some thought, but do you understand my comment about the verses being applicable to both the First and Second Coming? As it said in the Sunday readings "Stay awake and be ready."

    Also, just curious if the musicians who get sick of "O Come, O Come..." are the professionals who are playing multiple Masses per weekend.
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  • Carol,

    Yes, I think I understand that the verses are applicable to the 1st and 2nd Coming.

    I grew up singing "O Come, O Come", and even wrote a descant to it years ago. I now play at an EF parish and direct the choir at another. I sang Handel's Messiah, or, at least, the Advent and Christmas portion + ALleluia chorus every year for 10 (or something) and was very happy to put it down, to allow other music to bubble to the top.

    If I weren't in two EF situations, I would want to sing This is the Record of John for the appropriate Sunday.

    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • I would want to sing...

    Indeed!
    If 'O come, o come, Emmanuel' is obligatory.... then
    'This is the Record of John' is de rigueur certainment!
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • The sentimentality comment stung a little although I don't think it was meant to- guilty as charged.


    I'm sorry, I shouldn't have been so harsh. I can see you are truly trying to do what is best in your situation. I write out of a very frustrating situation in my parish where it's all about sentimentality (whatever those in power perceive to make the people happy) with seemingly little or no regard to what True Worship requires.

    Church musicians are at the service of their pastors so whatever you can "get away with" that will promote true worship, go for it. The question always, though, to keep in mind is, what will please God, not, what will please the people.
    Thanked by 2Carol RedPop4
  • Carol
    Posts: 229
    I agree that Church musicians are at the service of their pastors. I am not trying to get away with anything, just looking for decent Advent music that is in OCP missallette, and fond of "O Come, O Come..." As a volunteer musician,it is sometimes difficult to be taken for granted by your pastor, but small town parishes are like that.

    Anyway thanks for all the comments. I think I am in a different situation than most of the typical posters here.
    Thanked by 1RedPop4
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,746
    A mild suggestion for consideration:

    If the Veni, Veni Emmanuel tune is what appeals so much to people, yet the text seems better suited for the end of Advent, on might consider using other Long Metre (88. 88) texts with the same tune, retaining the Refrain "Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you O Israel" ... for example for Advent I, one could use the text of "On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry" (which is usually sung to Winchester New).
  • Great suggestion!
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,166
    Welcome, Carol, and don't be surprised to find that some of the folks here are a bit purist about when to sing Veni, veni, if at all. I think it's a perfectly decent way to give people the signal that The Season Has Arrived. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to sing it more than once, because there are so many other great Advent hymns that I happen to find more tuneful. The tune of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" was found in a collection of processional chants; so why not use it for an Entrance procession (or recessional) on the First Sunday of Advent, and then fill in the other hymn slots for the four Sundays with other pieces: in an average parish's Mass with four hymns, you just have 16 slots to fill during the season, and who would want to omit "People Look East", "O Come, Divine Messiah", "Creator of the Stars of Night", "On Jordan's Bank", etc.? And of course you have to deal with the limitations of what the parish is used to: introducing two new hymns every week would be asking too much of the congregation!
    Thanked by 2Carol RedPop4
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,498
    In my experience it's clergy who tire of Veni.

    But now you've set me to thinking about that other ghastly problem:

    The first Nowell the angel did say
    to certain shepherds as in fields they lay
    in winter's cold keeping their sheep,
    all through that night that was so deep.
    Nowell, nowell, Emanuel
    is born, the King of Israel.

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  • Q: Which was Hans Urs von Balthasar's favorite Christmas Carol?


    A: The First No-Hell!
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  • But now you've set...

    Well! At least you could get the words right.

    The first Nowell the angel did say
    Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
    In fields as they lay, keeping their sheep,
    On a cold winter's night that was so deep.
    Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
    Born is the King of Israel.

    Admittedly, it's NOT in The English Hymnal!... but...
    I've always liked it - warts and all...
    along with 'In the Bleak Mid-winter', etc.

    (I do believe that it snows in the Holy Land somewhat more frequently than in Houston.)
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • KyleM18
    Posts: 128
    If you are looking for suggestions on what to play during Advent, and feel that the use of "O come, O come Emmanuel" is too much, I'd suggest reserving it to the 4th Sunday of Advent, although the "Rejoice, rejoice" would work for Advent III "Gaudete Sunday". For Advent Sunday (Advent I), I'd use some form of "Wachet auf" (and maybe throughout Advent, at least until Advent IV). MJO can probably name a good version. I'd also suggest "Comfort, comfort ye my people", and I know GIA publishes a not-too-bad version in their "Revival" series (OK, I know nobody here would like to use it, but at least it's giving hymns to the contemporary groups without using the Tomlin/Maher style). I use "Let all mortal flesh keep silence" during communion during advent, and I know "Revival" has a version of that too. A "Magnificat" is always nice as well.
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