The seven Great ‘O’ Antiphons of Advent are sung before the Magnificat at Vespers during the seven days prior to Christmas. They are seven words or phrases, mostly in Latin, which look forward to the coming of the Messiah. They have been prayed by the Church since, at least, the 8th century. Each begins with “O”. Today Bishop Earl Boyea reflects upon the fourth “O” Antiphon: O Clavis David (O Key of David). Here is what he says:
On December 20th, we sing the fourth antiphon: “O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” This image of the Key of David is quite evocative. Apparently, the Master of the Palace, Shebna, had done something seriously wrong and the prophet Isaiah is sent to proclaim his downfall and the rise, in his place, of Eliakim. It is about the later that Isaiah says: “I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open. I will fix him as a peg in a firm place” (Isaiah 22:22-23).
In the Book of Revelation Jesus will apply this image to himself: “The Holy One, the true, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open” (Revelation 3:7). But notice, it is the not just the key of the house of David, it is the key of David himself. Jesus fulfills this prophecy.
Our antiphon reminds us that the key is primarily meant to break down walls and lead us to freedom. This is the servant of God described by Isaiah whose role is: “To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness” (Isaiah 42:7). From falsehood and idols and lies, this Messiah Servant is to give us true freedom and the freedom of the truth. Sisters and brothers, Jesus is the key to our salvation. He gave that key to Peter whom he called “Rock,” so that what Peter and the Church would bind or loose would be bound or loosed even in Heaven. This is not a key just to some earthly kingdom; it is the key to the gates of Heaven itself. Jesus has opened that gate. Come, let us enter.
* First broadcast December 2020