Veni, veni Emmanuel;
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.
Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!
Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that morns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel
(a woman worships in silence alone, in a small Florentine chapel in Florence, Italy /
Julie Cook / 2007)
(since this past Sunday marked the first Sunday in Advent,
and since we all know that time has not been on my side as of late…
I wanted to share a post regarding my most favorite of hymns—a hymn
that happens to be only sung during the season of Advent…)
Growing up in an Anglican, or more specifically an American Episcopal Church–
with my growing up happening to be taking place within a large
Gothic Cathedral to be more exact,
I was immersed at an early age with beautiful choral music and hymns.
Many of which boast of ancient roots and beginnings.
To hear and to feel the massive and beautiful organ deeply reverberating throughout
the massive stone cavernous church, as it engulfs one’s entire being–
accompanying the voices of the classically trained choir,
echoing and rising out from behind the chancel, was all short of magical.
It was the life and mystical wonder from a time when I was being formed as
a spiritual being.
I am very old fashioned when it comes to hymns and the music associated with
that of a Cathedral.
There is a solemnity and a reverence.
Just merely reading the lyrics of these hymns,
one is struck by the rich poetic history of the stories being told via
the use of ancient song.
There are a handful of hymns, to this day,
which tug upon my heart… bringing tears to my eyes each
opportunity I have to hear them.
Be that either as a member of a Sunday congregation or merely
gently singing to myself as I go about my day–
hymns that move my heart to a place of deep reflection–
an almost mystical reverence.
Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, the Latin version of O come O come, Emmanuel,
is one such hymn.
It is a hymn for the season of Advent, as that is the only time it is sung.
It’s roots are indeed ancient as some scholars date it (the Latin version)
to that of an 8th century Gregorian Chant.
Others date it to either the 12th or 15th century France as a
processional type of hymn.
Even others date it to as late as the 18th century as an antiphon or
type of sung liturgical response.
Sadly, I must confess that I don’t know a thing about music,
as I’ve never been trained or had an opportunity of singing in a choir.
I really can’t sing, but have always wished I could.
So as I explain the power of this particular hymn,
those of you who do understand music, please forgive me for I speak
from my heart about this music and not of classical study.
O come O come Emmanuel is sung slowly…
beginning quite low, being “sung” a cappella.
It can be accompanied by an organ or other single instrument.
Mannheim Steamroller, the wonderfully synthesizing modern music group,
who has produced marvelous holiday music based from many medieval songs,
has a beautiful rendition.
It is very reminiscent of the chants heard from various early Christian monasteries–
which is why I believe it does have it’s roots seeded in that of Gregorian Chants.
The cadence is steady and specific–there is power in the simplistic rhythm
of the 7 groups of stanzas which make up the full body of the text.
I understand the whole joyful noise business,
but I am of the serious school when it comes to worship.
The ancient hymns, that are more typical of a liturgical service,
speak of solemn serious worship–meditative and reflective,
which seems to rise up from one’s very core.
There is not that over the top emotionalism so often associated with
the prayer and praise musical services of today.
In this chant, as well as other similar types of hymns,
there is rather an acute awareness.
Tears will readily cascade down my cheeks even today when
I hear this most ancient of hymns.
Much of the early Church’s music, which has it’s roots in Medieval Europe,
speaks of wondrous mysteries of the world–words which spoke to those
who were apart of those “dark ages,”–as that was indeed a mysterious
time of both space and place.
Those people who were of such a different time than ours, did actually know
the things which we don’t seem to necessarily know today–just as we know things that they did not.
Much of our scientific world has solved many of their mysteries and problems.
While their musical worship was based deeply in a belief and faith that
was undefinable, full of questions, wonderment and awe…much of what we often lack today.
God and the understanding of Him, His Son and that of the Holy Spirit
That was something not easily or readily defined or put in a nice little
box of understanding.
Nor is it to this day.
Their music reflected such.
Mystery and awe.
This particular hymn / chant is serious, steady, determined, meaningful and lasting.
It strikes at something very deep.
It doesn’t get one worked up in a sweat induced, clap your hands and shout
to the heavens sort of deal, but rather it is almost spoken—
spoken as in a statement that is meant to make those who hear it contemplate
its very importance.
It is a hymn that is actually mournful and even heavy.
In part why it is one of the first hymns of Advent–a time of great expectation.
And with expectation comes questions.
It is a time of year that we, the faithful, approach with reverence and measure.
So why mournful and heavy you may ask…why now of all times should there be such
a heaviness as we enter the season of Advent only to followed by the joy of Christmas…
both of which, for the Church, marks a time of waiting and
expectant watching…and eventual joy.
For are we not anticipating a birth?
And is not the anticipation of a birth an event of great joy?
A time of joy, yes, and yet at the same moment, with this particular birth,
comes a deep heaviness as it is a birth marked with tremendous hardship–
only to be followed by the fleeing for safety and then again, a time of more waiting.
The very conception, waiting and birth stay constantly in the shadow of one thing
and that one thing is that of Death.
With this birth comes grave consequence for both me and you…
and yet, as with all births, there is tremendous Hope of what will be.
And as with the anticipation of any birth comes a sense of urgency.
The urgency here is of the coming of the one who is referred to as Emmanuel,
as it is He who is come to ransom the captive Israel,
which in turn refers to all of us today.
He is to come and is to set the captives free.
To free you and me from the prison of our sin and of our death.
As we mourn throughout our “exile” or separation from our Father.
The Immanuel, Hebrew עִמָּנוּאֵל, which has been Romanized to Emmanuel–
meaning God with Us, is invoked…rather meaning, He is to come,
coming to us all…but yet is acknowledged as already being here with us–
the Omnipotent one.
We sing to the God who is with us and yet who is to come,
and who is to come quickly.
We are then told to Rejoice,
Rejoice because He will come, as He has come and as He will come again.
On this first Tuesday in this new season of Advent,
may we all be mindful of our continual need for this Holy Coming–
of the One who will set free and make things right—
who will, in turn, free both you and me from the constant presence of
the shadow of Death—-
who will bridge the gap of separation, as this Emmanuel is the only one who
can and will and has done all of this!
So may we Rejoice and Rejoice continually as He shall come to us indeed—