O Clavis David or Missus Est?

Today puts me in a quandary. Do I write about the day’s O antiphon or follow monastic tradition by commenting on the day’s gospel in what is known as a Missus Est because it focuses on the words, ‘An angel was sent from God’? Or can we have something of both?

Today’s O antiphon is

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, who open and no one shuts, who shuts, and no one opens, come and free from prison him who sits in darkness and the shadow of death.

It is impossible to sing that antiphon without thinking of St Bernard’s words in a Missus Est written nearly nine hundred years ago. He addresses Our Lady, daughter of David’s royal line, urging her to give the waiting angel her consent to what God asks of her, to give the word which will give us the Word made flesh. He pictures all creation on its knees before her, including Adam and those imprisoned in darkness and the shadow of death.

I think we can identify with all those on the fringes with Adam, as it were, whose faith is sometimes wobbly, whose lives are sometimes messy but who are sure (most of the time) of this: our need for a Saviour. We are reminded today of both our fragility and our glory as human beings. Mary gave her consent to be the Mother of God in a moment of unequalled faith. Had she not done so, we would be in darkness still.  Jesus is the one and only Key, but his Mother provides the lock and wards that allow the Key to work.

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Our Need of Holiness

Having posted on today’s O antiphon, ‘O Adonai’, every year since I began blogging, I thought I would give both you and me a rest; but I find I can’t, because our need of holiness, of redemption, of the gift of prayer, grows ever greater. So, you will find the text, translation, music and some scriptural notes here, and if you want to know what I’ve said in previous years, please type ‘O Adonai’ into the search box on the right.

What strikes me this morning is the humility of holiness. God could have impressed Moses with a sense of his infinite transcendence in many ways, but he chose to capture his attention using a burning bush. Moses’ curiosity led him to God; and only after he had heard God speak did he realise that he was on holy ground. Prayer is rather like that. We tend to think that we are calling on God, only to realise later that God first called to us; and just as Moses’ life was transformed by his encounter with the mysterious presence at the heart of the burning bush, so our lives too are transformed by the encounter with God in prayer.

Sometimes we try to avoid prayer because we are afraid of what God may ask of us. We try to run away like Jonah, or we get into a huff like Naaman because things don’t go the way we expect and want. Sometimes we just give up on it because it seems too hard or unrewarding. We want to be mystics and have wonderful supernatural experiences and forget that, for most people, most of the time,  prayer is a much humbler, much more plodding business. There is no mystery about prayer, although prayer draws us into the heart of a great Mystery. God speaks to us where we are, in the desert of our lives, through the ordinary and everyday much more often than through the strange and spectacular. Our job is to listen and allow ourselves to be transformed: God will not force us. We tend to overlook that, because we have never quite understood the humility of God.

The prayer we make in today’s antiphon requires our consent to be answered — the searing holiness of God desires our redemption, but only if we will allow it. To have such power over God is the paradox of being human.

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