O Key of David

O Key of David

O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom, come and free the prisoners of darkness!

Christmas draws nearer. Today’s O Antiphon (above) addresses Christ as the “Key of David.” The antiphon for today leads me to muse about the shape of keys in the Middle Ages. That is when the Roman Church first sang special chants in the eight days before Christmas.

The O Antiphons

They all begin with the Latin particle of address. I remember how as a child we used to call our neighborhood playmates, rather than ring a doorbell or knock on doors. Those were the days before air conditioning and tightly sealed doors and windows. We would simply call “Oh, Jerry” (or whomever) when we were trying to gather a group to play baseball, basketball, or something.

The Latin equivalent to our calls was used in eight different titles to address the Lord Jesus, calling upon him to come: O Sapientia, O Adonai, O Radix, O Clavis, O Oriens, O Rex, O Emmanuel. Translated, these are: Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dawn, King, Emmanuel.

The first letters of the Latin titles of Christ, if put in reverse order, form an acrostic message: Ero cras—“I will be there tomorrow.” Monks put these biblical titles into the series of antiphons sung on the last eight days of Vespers during the Advent season. 

When reflecting on the antiphon for today, we remember that Jesus is from the line of David, born in Bethlehem. He alone has the divine power to free us from the dungeons of our collective and personal darkness, or sin.

There is something primal in our longing for freedom from sin, darkness, and death; today we Catholics celebrate our longing for freedom and affirm our faith in Christ. That is why we cry out: “O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom, come and set us free!”

Photographer: Andrea Danti/PhotoXpress


About the Author

Dan Kroger, O.F.M., a native of Cincinnati, joined the Franciscans in 1967 and was ordained in 1973. He taught high school and served in rural parishes in the Philippines. Dan earned a Ph.D. in Christian ethics at Notre Dame. He also taught at De La Salle University, Manila, until he was assigned to his present post as publisher/CEO at Franciscan Media in 2006.