O Key of David: Reflections as We Journey to Bethlehem

Through December 23, Ascension Press is presenting “What’s in a Name? The O Antiphons with Thomas Smith.»

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The «10-minute studies» (they are intended to take no more than 10 minutes of a reader’s time) are free at http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/category/free-studies/o-antiphons/

A recording and translation of each of the O Antiphons, chanted by the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford, can be found at this link: http://godzdogz.op.org/search/label/%22O%20Antiphons%22

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(This can also be sung to the melody “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”)

O come, O come, thou Key of David come,
And open wide our heavenly home,
Make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.

Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel


In Isaiah 22, we discover one of the tasks of the prime minister of the Davidic Kingdom (called the al bayit in Hebrew) is to “carry the keys,” symbols of authority over the house of David. This sacred stewardship allowed the vicar of Judah’s king to open what others had shut and to close what had been opened. Centuries later, Jesus will have a fascinating conversation with his chief apostle, Peter, and entrust to him the keys of the renewed kingdom of David (Mt. 16:16-19), giving him the power to bind (close) and loose (open). Since Christ’s kingdom is eternal, these decisions made by Peter on earth are also recognized and ratified in heaven (Mt. 16:19). As the Gospel is preached by Peter and the first apostles, they carry forth the work of the Messiah, “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). What binds and blinds the human family is not a cement cell but our sins. And the apostles not only announced our liberation but were given the “keys” from the Key of David himself, to effect that forgiveness we need. In John, the Resurrected Jesus breaths on them and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). Every step Mary took to Bethlehem was one step closer to giving the world the Key of David which would set us free. That gift and power to forgive sin was entrusted to the successors of the apostles (the bishops) and by extension to the priests who serve the kingdom of Christ with them. Although Christ left the Church the sacramental means of our forgiveness (in Baptism and Reconciliation), we must walk through those gates of grace. The penitential tone of Advent reminds us of that gift and invites us to receive it anew.


Participate in one of the Advent penance services in your parish or diocese or plan a time to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation an integral part of your Advent devotions. When you welcome the Christ Child, do it with clean hands and a pure heart.


Let us rest in our Key of David today. He is not only our Key to freedom and deliverance from sin’s enslaving powers, he is the Door of our salvation (John 10:9). Receive his forgiveness. As Pope Francis loves to say, “We will tire of asking the Lord for forgiveness before he will ever tire of giving it to us.”

Reprinted with permission of Ascension Press. 


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Thomas Smith is the co-author of Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come and an international presenter for The Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Bringing a wealth of experience and insight on the Word of God to audiences across the U.S., Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker. Thomas Smith has taught as an adjunct professor at the St. Francis School of Theology in Denver, and is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School. He lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho and writes for his website www.gen215.org.

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