O Clavis David: O Key of David

O Clavis David,
et sceptrum domus Israël,
qui aperis, et nemo claudit,
claudis, et nemo aperuit:
veni, et educ vinctum
de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.

O Key of David,
and scepter of the house of Israel,
you open, and no one shuts,
you shut, and no one opens:
come, and lead the prisoner
from jail,
seated in darkness
and in the shadow of death.

One of the highlights of communal prayer at the community of Taizé (France) was the Advent season and the singing of the O Antiphons. The liturgy of the hours at Taizé was simple yet powerful in its beauty, always focused deeply on the psalms and silence and intercessory prayer. The O Antiphons, which we sang every Saturday evening during Advent (and often during the week too… playing freely with the liturgical rule assigned to them simply because we loved them so much!), embodied all three characteristics: like the psalms, they give us a language to speak to God and with one another, the particular musical setting we used in Taizé moved towards silence and, of course, at their heart the antiphons are profoundly intercessory: Come! Viens, Seigneur, viens bientot! We sang a version that was composed by one of the first brothers of the Community. I have unfortunately never seen it in print but a recording was made back in the 1950s and re-edited by the brothers more recently: Taizé dans l’église romane (unfortunately only available in Europe or through Amazon France – label: Studio SM, ASIN: B0000262KY)

My favorite verse was always the fourth one, O Clavis David, O Key of David! (for December 20). Rather than being frightened by this image of Christ as the holder of the keys, the one who opens and no one can close and who closes and no one can open, the image of Christ as Key of David instilled in me a far-reaching confidence. My faith was carried on this promise of the One who holds all things in his life. I am reminded of the verse from John 3:27, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.” There is nothing that we have or could invent that might make Christ present but Christ comes and gives us everything through the Father and the Spirit… not only faith and all spiritual goods but all material goods as well. This Trinitarian image of Christ evokes adoration. We are totally dependent on this One who rules over all. And what a blessed dependence! For this One is described, not as the condemner or exterminator, but as the one who frees the prisoners, who calls out to the dead and leads them to life, who opens the eyes of the blind bringing them from darkness to light, whose heart is full of compassion and mercy, who is the Gospel coming to us in the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of community in God.


  1. The one who holds the keys is a liberator of prisoners. What a wonderful thought! We can be imprisoned in so many ways, awaiting our release — even prisons of our own making. The promised freedom of Christ’s coming is a message not often sounded at Christmas time. Thank you for bringing this to light.

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