Today’s antiphon, recited on December 20th, is called “O Clavix”.
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
who opens, and no one shuts;
who shuts, and no one opens:
Come and lead out the restrained from the house of prison|
those dwelling in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Compared to yesterday’s translation, we have less challenges making a more literal translation still readable and understandable. The word “aperis” can also mean “to uncover” or “to reveal”, but in combination with “claudit”, and reference of leading captives out of prison in the next verse, I think open annd closing is here much more appropriate.
With regards to the scripture references, this antiphon is almost a word-for-word repetition of Isaiah 22:22. As you may recall the O Antiphons date back at least as far back as the 8th century, probably even earlier, and hence the most commonly used Bible would have been a Latin version. Isaiah 22:22 reads as follows in the Latin Vulgate:
et dabo clavem domus David super umerum eius et aperiet et non erit qui claudat et claudet et non erit qui aperiat
And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
Note how the “claudis / claudat” and “aperies / aperiat” are very, very similar. The writer of the antiphon undoubtedly changed the sequence a bit to be more metric in rhyme and make it work with the music, but it is easy the see the exact replication of Scripture.
The same text also comes back in Revelation as a reference to Christ, “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” (Rev 3:7, ESV)
Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons,
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart.
As we progress through the O antiphons and get closer to Christmas, we have passed from Wisdom or the Word, to the Law, and have now reached the House of David out of which one will come that will set free those captive in bondage and under the shadow of death. As Paul teaches us in Romans 8, the law showed us that we are all dead in our transgressions, in dire need of a savior. This antiphon, much like Romans 8, shows us that there one who is coming, who will free us from the wages of sin and lead us out from the shadow of death.
Advent is more than a preparation for festivities and a waiting period for Christmas. It is a period during which we can prepare ourselves for the coming of our Savior. It is a season filled with joy and peace. But it is only so because a Savior will be born for us who need Him. If we were without need, His birth would be without merit. So let’s also take the time between shopping, cooking and decorating to reflect on why Christs birth is so significant. It is so He can ultimately pay the price to lead us out into the light from underneath the shadow of death.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1, ESV)
Ackowledgements and for more information:
Fr, William Saunders, What are the “O Antiphons”
Catholic Culture: The O Antiphons
The Crossroads Initiative: The great “O Antiphons of Advent”
Image courtesy of Catholic Culture