Of O Antiphons, Passionist Nuns, and the silence of Advent…

“Everything that the church gives you to sing, every prayer that you say in and with Christ and his Mystical Body, is a cry of ardent desire for grace, for help, for the coming of the Messiah, the Redeemer.”

– Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain
Passionist Nuns Monastery in Whitesville, KY

The Seven Story Mountain is definitely my favorite of Thomas Merton writings. The above quote popped up on my Facebook Memories this morning from a few years ago. I think that it highlights these final days of the Advent Season in a beautiful way.

Currently, at Mass and Evening Prayer we are hearing/singing/chanting/praying the “O Antiphons”, (See my post from a few years ago here.) today we heard O Clavis David…Key of David. These ancient titles for the Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer connect us with our Jewish roots and with principal titles for the Messiah and what he will/has/does come to do for us.

This evening, we joined our dear Contemplative/Cloistered Passionist Nuns in Whitesville for a small social gathering, music, a very creative/funny skit, as well as to pray Evening Prayer in their beautiful chapel. The Sisters, like those of us at Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology  have the privilege of chanting the various hours of the Liturgy of the Hours in common. The Nuns used a beautiful tone for tonight’s Magnificat Antiphon:

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel,
controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
Come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death;
and lead your captive people into freedom.

As the Nuns tend to chant in a higher register than we men (it tests my Tenor voice at times) I was struck particularly during the chanting of this Antiphon with the quote I had reread earlier in the day. As the nuns chanted higher, I envisioned that Royal Power of Israel, the one who commands death and life coming from the heights and leading us forth into freedom from our sin, from our false sense of selves, from the weight of the culture’s-lived-out idea of Advent…

“Everything that the church gives you to sing, every prayer that you say in and with Christ and his Mystical Body, is a cry of ardent desire for grace, for help, for the coming of the Messiah, the Redeemer.”

– Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain

To me this evening, that antiphon spoke light into the semi-dark corners of my spiritual life and helped me to see just a little bit more clearly how much more I needed Christ in my life. How I needed the Key of David to come and unlock the chains that still bind me, how I needed the Key of David to lead me into a deeper sense and lived experience of freedom.

As we have come to the end of the school semester and my mind has been bogged down for the past few weeks with finals, papers, and readings, Advent hasn’t been all that “peaceful.” Tonight, that changed. Tonight I entered a bit deeper into that peace, that quiet waiting with joy, hope, and expectation for the coming of the Messiah, our Redeemer. Tonight, in my heart, in my soul, I was able to cry out in song, chant…for grace…for help…for the coming of Emmanuel…God with us.

May you have the opportunity to sit a while, rest in the silence, the peace, the quiet waiting of these coming days so that we might join the Angels, Singing in Exultation as Christ comes not only in the manger of Bethlehem, but into the mangers of our hearts. May we make him room!

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