O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
This much-beloved hymn sees in the birth of Jesus Christ the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. Each title (O Wisdom, O Dayspring) is drawn from the Old Testament, and is followed by a prayer, a petition (“Show us the path, disperse the gloom”) which we can make ours today. The sober, mournful melody of this hymn challenges us. It is the song of a “captive Israel,” of a people “in exile, until the Son of God appear.” Then comes the surprising refrain: “Rejoice!” Why “rejoice”? Because the Son of God has indeed come, and will indeed come again!
Conditor Alme Siderum (Loving Creator of the Stars)
This ancient hymn (7th century) marks the beginning of the Advent season, and is sung at Vespers from the 1st Sunday of Advent through December 16. Its opening verses draw our eyes to the stars above, shining against the darkness of a world where sin and death still reign. Why look up? To wait for a star, the star, the one that announces the birth of the Creator of the stars, the one who will conquer sin and death. The melody is almost playful — a gentle reminder that the one who will accomplish this comes in the smallness, playfulness of a child.
O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
This is the first of the seven “O Antiphons,” a series of chants from the 6th-8th century that inspired the hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” One is sung each day between December 17 through December 23. Although the text changes, the melody remains practically the same for all seven antiphons. Hear in it the desire of all created things to see the face of their Creator. The Wisdom that spoke all things into being will now speak to us in the cries, laughs and babbling of a baby.
Puer Natus (A Child Is Born)
This is, properly speaking, a Christmas hymn (and a favorite of Abbot Jeremy’s). The full hymn, which dates to sometime between the 13th-14th centuries, is a sort of “musical Nativity scene” — it depicts for us, in song, the Child, the manger, the stable, the animals, the Magi, and the Virgin Mother. It is also a sort of “musical catechism,” because it describes the redemptive mission that this Child has come to fulfill. It ends with a verse of praise to the Blessed Trinity.
Alma Redemptoris Mater (Loving Mother of the Redeemer)
This short canticle was written by a Benedictine monk in the 11th century, and is now sung after Compline from the beginning of Advent until the Feast of the Presentation (February 2nd). It sings of the wonders that God has worked in Mary: Mother, yet virgin; she bears a Son, but her Son is her Creator!
– Notes by Br. Israel Sanchez, O.S.B.