Tonight’s O Antiphon is the last one, and it’s the most famous and probably the most beautiful. It’s “O Emmanuel.” The name Emmanuel.means “God with us,” and it’s taken from Isaiah 7:13-14, in which Isaiah says,
“Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
The most incredible insight to the name (and title) Emmanuel was one I discovered last year. Here’s what I wrote on it last Christmas:
Emmanuel is unique, in that it is prophetic, in a way, of the name of Christ. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, in Volume 1 of Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word (a particularly fitting book to quote from, since I started reading it after getting it for my dad for Christmas), spoke about the radical significance behind Matthew’s translation in Matthew 1:24 of Emmanuel from Hebrew, the language the Jews considered sacred, to Greek, the language of the Gentiles and the world. He sees in this translation a parallel between the Old and New Covenant, and how God is viewed under each. From there, he says:
“On the subject of Jesus as “translator” of God, Fray Luis de Leon, the Spanish Dominican who was also a great writer, has left us an unforgettable formulation in his treatise on The Names of Christ. He says that the sacred Name of God in the Old Testament, יהוה, the unpronounceable tetragrammaton, is found again in the Hebrew name of Jesus, ישוע, with the addition of the radicals from the verb “to save” and the vowels necessary to pronounce the divine Name. In this way, while the Name of God is so holy, mysterious, and pure that it cannot be pronounced by a human mouth, the addition of Christ’s divine will to save mankind “translates,” that is, transfers, the sanctity of God to our level as creatures and at last makes it possible for us, too, to pronounce God’s true Name, which cannot be any other than Jesus, and thus be saved, All else that we subsequently come to know about God rests on this primary revelation: He is the One who saves us in Jesus.”
It’s an amazing insight. Now, go back to the prophesy in Isaiah 7:14. The name Emmanuel means “God with us,” and the name Jesus explains how and why God is with us. That is, He’s with us in the Person of Jesus Christ, and He’s with us to save.
The traditional Latin Antiphon is:
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,expectratio gentium, et Salvator earum:veni ad salvandum nos,Domines, Deus noster.
Which means, in English:
O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver,
Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof,
Come to save us, O Lord our God!
It corresponds, of course, to the first verse of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel:
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
And the English version used in the Antiphon today:
O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations, Savior of all people:
Come and set us free, Lord our God.
And finally, here are the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars in Oxford singing the Latin plainchant: