From Dec. 17-23, the Church prays the “O Antiphons” at evening prayer, immediately before praying the Magnificat. There are seven O antiphons, each one focusing on one trait or Old Testament name of the promised Messiah.
The original song “Veni Emmanuel” dates back to the 8th century, and was, of course, in Latin. The verses as we sing it today are not quite in order of the prayed antiphons of evening prayer. The first verse, “O Come, o come Emmanuel” is the last of the O Antiphon, prayed on Dec. 23. Otherwise, it is more or less in order.
Like anything translated from another language, especially one that is no longer spoken in every day, practical use, there are some variations in exactly how you hear the O Antiphons. For example, verse 4 of the hymn we know reads, “ O come O Rod of Jesse’s stem”. You might also see this translated as “O Root of Jesse’s stem” or just “O Root of Jesse”.
The hymn is set to VENI EMMANUEL a tune probably French in origin, but whose composer is unknown. John Mason Neale, an Anglican clergyman, published his translation of the O Antiphons set to VENI EMMANUEL in 1851, and the hymn as we know it was, more or less, born.
There are several more contemporary songs based on “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, like Marty Haugen’s “My Soul in Stillness Waits”.
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is very much sung prayer!