20th December - O Clavis David

Go to content

20th December - O Clavis David

Dominican Nuns Ireland
Published by Dominican Nuns Ireland in Reflections (Other) · 20 December 2023
Tags: Advent
“O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

Tonight the O Antiphons continue in the theme of Our Lord’s Davidic Kingship. The “Key of David” reflects the kingly powers conferred on Jesus as successor to the throne of the David, as well as the fulfilment of God’s promise made to him in 2 Samuel 7 that he would rule over the House of Israel forever. These ‘kingly’ O Antiphons draw forth this aspect of the Lord’s character as Messiah and focus strongly on the nature of His Power. Today, we are given this curious picture of the locking and unlocking of gates, which come, in full, from the Prophet Isaiah:

“I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David;
he shall open, and no one shall shut;
he shall shut, and no one shall open.” (Isaiah 22:22)

“…[He will] open the blind eyes... bring out the prisoners from the prison,
and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” (Isaiah 42:7)

While these images undoubtedly have a temporal dimension, a reflection of the celebration of the temporal authority of Christ the King, a forward-looking hope for our release from mortal suffering and compassion for those imprisoned on earth, it is clear that the truest exercise of this Power is in unlocking the gates of the prison house of sin, the release of those who: ‘sit in darkness, and the shadow of death’.

An important part of our walk through Advent this year has focused on the helplessness of man in the face of his sin. While I’m sure most of us would be hesitant to admit to being a Pelagian, or even a semi-Pelagian, it is difficult to deny that it can have a strong hold on us in some of the most hidden ways. In fact, in a Sunday Sermon this Advent, Bishop Robert Barron suggested that it is the defining error of our age. Now, this makes no sense if you identify Pelagianism as an empty clinging to rituals and works in a hope of ‘working our way to salvation’. I think very few of us would fall into that category. But, if we look at Pelagianism as what it really is, we will perhaps see to what Bishop Barron is alluding. He helpfully suggests that we look at it this way: as a prideful clinging to a groundless self-reliance. It is the process of telling ourselves that there are just a few more things we need to sort out if we are going to find our way to happiness, or just a few more solutions we need to put in place to resolve the situation in which we find ourselves: better emotional health, a greater transparency in government, a better diet, better relationships with friends, relatives or even enemies, a more loving outlook, a greater fraternal feeling, a stricter self-discipline...

What the Liturgy has been saying to us this year is that not one of these things will save us, and if that has not rung true, we need only look to the state of the world to see that we are not in command of ourselves. We cannot do this alone. Our human modes are failing. “Who will save [us] from [these bodies] of death?” as St. Paul says to the Romans (Romans 7:24).

St. Augustine called this Original Sin, and concupiscence – the weakness for falling back into sin that follows us, even after our baptism – which is why it was still a problem for St Paul!

St. Thomas Aquinas calls it a lack of freedom. St. Thomas understood freedom profoundly as the ability of the will to choose the Highest Good. It is the unshackling of the soul, so that it is free to rise to its greatest height: Eternal Life in the Love of the Trinity. Without this kind of freedom, we are not able to be happy. We may seek happiness, but we will never reach it. We are bound by our sin to continue repeating the same heart-wrenchingly mad cycles we see emerging again and again in our world. Freedom is a change deep in ourselves that will make our happiness possible.

True freedom comes from grace, and Jesus – as the Key of David – comes to give it to us by His atoning Death and Resurrection. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25) is St. Paul’s exuberant declaration after his acknowledgement of his own slavery.

He knows that grace, that Truth Himself will set him free.

And this is the profound paradox of recognising our helplessness; it is not a depressing, crushing experience, but, as St. Catherine of Siena repeats tirelessly, it the very thing that opens us up to deeper praise, to thanksgiving and a great love for the Lord who is coming to us anew this Christmas - our Savior, who has opened the gate out of darkness that no one shall shut, and beckons all of us to walk through it.

To “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  

Photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash.   


©2024 , Dominican Nuns Ireland. All rights reserved. (Created with Incomedia WebSite X5.)
Back to content