The O Antiphons – “O Emmanuel”

In this post, Thomas Smith reflects upon the O Antiphon “O Emmanuel” from the December 23 daily Mass. You can find his other reflections on the O Anthiphons leading up to Christmas here.


(This can also be sung to the melody “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.

Refrain: Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!


In one of the most oft-quoted passages from Isaiah, the prophet records God’s sign to doubting King Ahaz that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). While doubtless there was some contemporary fulfillment for Ahaz, the FULL-fillment would only come in Christ. As Pope Benedict wrote in his book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, this prophecy is a “word in waiting.” The Gospel of Matthew, in fact, appeals to Isaiah to show that the Nativity is what Israel had been waiting for through the centuries. In fact, this promise frames the Gospel of Matthew. As with the other titles, Emmanuel is not so much a proper name as a message. Emmanuel means “God is with us.” At the beginning of the Gospel, Isaiah’s promise is invoked in the Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1:23) and the Gospel closes with the Ascension where Christ promises “lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

As we come to the end of the seven O Antiphons, there is one final hidden message. Fr. William Saunders points out that the antiphons are ordered with a definite purpose. When you reverse the order of the Latin titles (Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia) the first letter of each one spells the phrase ero cras which translated is, “Tomorrow, I will come.” And in fact, he does, a gift we celebrate at Midnight Mass. St. Peter Eymard says that we actually celebrate three births of Jesus. His birth in Bethlehem, his birth on our altars in the form of the Eucharist, and his birth in our hearts. May we welcome him faithfully and fruitfully in all three ways.


Part of being a follower of Jesus is to continue to make this message known. In word and deed we reveal that God is still very present in the world. It is God’s desire that we become a kind of new incarnation of his Son Jesus to all that we meet. Pope Francis has been such an outstanding model of this. Those I have spoken to who have met him face to face, remark that they feel God’s presence and love so tangibly. He has revealed that Evangelization is, in fact, Emmanuel-ization.  Look for some very tangible ways you can be “God with us” in the ordinary events of the day. Maybe let two or three people in line ahead of you at the store, write a card to that person you have been meaning to thank, be a Secret Santa to a neighbor or widow/ widower in the parish, create a little blessing bag of toiletries and warm gloves/hat for the next homeless person you encounter.


What a joy, what a consolation to know that Christ has never left us, that God’s promises are sure. As you take a moment for contemplation, thank the Lord that before you even began to pray, he was present and waiting. 

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Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is the co-author of Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come and The Prophets: Messengers of God's Mercy. He is an international presenter for The Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Bringing a wealth of experience and insight on the Word of God to audiences across the U.S., Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker. Thomas Smith has taught as an adjunct professor at the St. Francis School of Theology in Denver, and is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School. He lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho and writes for his website

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  • Emmy

    I was excited to notice that when we sang O Come Emmanuel at mass, the next verses were the Antiphons you have shared with us. I would not have recognized that if not for this study. Thank you

  • pnkyB4brain

    There has been approximately 2000 years that Emmanuel “God is with us” has been spiritually present within the human race. As the Jewish nation created their own ‘hills and valleys’ during the Old Testament, so have we as Christians throughout all these years. There were and are dark times that are so ever present in our world today, yesterday, and perhaps tomorrow.
    As Thomas suggested a tangible way to give back to God what He has given to us, that is unrequited love. Let us not judge the homeless or the people one can easily dislike at work or in our neighborhood. Let’s extend love and kindness and show how beautiful our faith is. I often wonder that if all Catholics throughout the world would do one act of kindness all within a week’s time, would the world be a better place for that week? It’s an experiment worth trying! Plus it gives such a warm feeling inside when one does an act of charity.
    Our world is becoming more and more anti-Christian so as not to “offend” anyone when celebrating the birth of Emmanuel. The tangible gift we can give, regardless of it’s ‘size’ could move mountains! I think about the Samaritan woman encountering Christ at the well. (John 4:7-42) His words to this woman established a spiritual connection with these town folk and Jesus stayed with them for two days.