O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
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.
O Antiphon, December 19
Reflection – So we continue with the messianic theme from yesterday – from Root of Jesse (David as emerging from the shadows of history and the mystery of human ordinariness and hidden life, yielding to Christ and his Church springing from the soil of the world), we now see David regnant, David the king of the kingdom, the Key of David who holds the authority of God over his people Israel.
There are so many scriptures which converge here – the whole fulfillment of Jesus of the Davidic authority and power, the whole reality of the Lordship of Christ. But then, speaking of keys and opening and shutting, we cannot miss the reference to Peter in the Gospels, understood in our Catholic faith as the basis of the authority of the Pope to teach and govern the Church as Christ’s vicar. Christ’s authority, which is absolute, blends with the authority of the Church and of the Pope, which is limited and derivative.
It is hard for us, wounded by our sin and the sin of others against us, to hear of authority and lordship and things getting opened and shut and the Pope telling us what to do without getting a little tense somewhere inside. Very few people have a simple and unreserved welcoming of authority and its strictures and structures.
There are all sorts of reasons for this, some good, some bad, all perfectly understandable. But we have to go deep here. We have to understand that the whole purpose of authority, the whole reason for leadership in this broken poor world of ours, is to lead us out of darkness and the shadow of death, out of the prison house which imprisons us.
Tough stuff here, really. Authority is abused so often; authority is sometimes, simply, wrong. And there are so many aspects to all this—the proper limits of religious authority, the freedom of the Christian conscience, the need for oversight and transparency. Suffice to say that I do understand all that—but I’m not going to talk about it here, OK?
The godly function of Christian authority is to liberate us from prison. What prison? The prison of self-will, self-governance, self-centredness, self-limitation. By having an authority to whom we must give both account and obedience, we are called out of our limited and small world of concerns and ideas and plans. We are called to move out of all that into a bigger world, ultimately (even if the human authority is itself limited and foolish and may, being a poor sinful human being, be quite small in its own scope). As we strive to move not from our own will but from the obedience due to rightful authority, so many prison doors are burst open, so much light shed on so many difficult and dark subjects.
But we know that all this business of keys and opening and closing and obeying and dark and light and prisons and freedom is a very messy business in this world. We are called, we Catholics, to obey the Church, to obey the Pope, to obey right authority in its rightful sphere. But in that, we experience most deeply at times the need for Christ to come and establish his kingdom in fullness.
The Church is to be obeyed, but the Church is made up of sinners, and that sinfulness extends from the Pope to the smallest child. So ecclesial obedience brings us into a great passion of faith, a great experience of our need for a new coming of the messiah.
We cry out, Come, key of David, and lead us, lead all of us, to the full liberty and light of your kingdom, and use the obedience we offer to your representatives to begin this leading, this liberation, this enlightening, according to the mysterious workings of your wisdom in our lives.