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Advent: December 20th

December 20, O Clavis David (O Key of David); Ember Wednesday

Other Commemorations: St. Dominic of Silos, Abbot (RM); St. Zephyrinus, Pope and Martyr (RM) ; Other Titles: Day 4 O Antiphons: O Clavis David (O Key of David)


December 20, 2023 (Readings on USCCB website)



December 20: O God, eternal majesty, whose ineffable Word the immaculate Virgin received through the message of an Angel and so became the dwelling-place of divinity, filled with the light of the Holy Spirit, grant, we pray, that by her example we may in humility hold fast to your will. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.


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Today is the Fourth of the O Antiphons, O Clavis David (O Key of David). O sublime majesty of the coming Redeemer! To Him has been delivered the key, the government of the house of David (Is 22:22). Boundless is His power over the graces and privileges of the Church, over the souls and hearts and the wills of men. He holds the destiny of the Church in the palm of His hand. He is Master of the storms that arise to destroy the Church and the souls committed to her. He is capable of dealing with the false principles and the errors that threaten her doctrines. He has overcome the devil and his associates, the world, the flesh and its tribulations. To Him all power is given (Matt. 28:18). "He shall open and none shall shut" (Is 22:22). Against the power that is His all other forces are powerless. The destiny of souls and the government of the Church are placed in His hand. He is the Lord of all. O Key of David, I believe in Thy power; and in the many difficult situations that confront the Church and my own soul, I place my trust in Thee.

The Roman Martyrology commemorates St. Dominic of Silos (1000-1073), a Benedictine abbot who lived in Spain in the 11th century.

Also commemorated is St. Zephyrinus (d. 217), the fifteenth pope whose reign was from 199-217. His long pontificate was a period marked by the persecution of Septimus Severus, the struggle against heresy, and the organization of the Christian community in Rome. In the person of the Pope, the Roman Church asserted her claim as the appointed guardian of the true faith.

     Station Church Information >>>

December Ember Days or Advent Embertide, Ember Wednesday
Shortly after Gaudete Sunday and St. Lucy’s feast day on December 13 the Advent Ember Days begin. Today is the traditional Ember Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Advent Embertide. The Ember days represent an ancient and cherished tradition of the Roman Church. Four times a year, at the change of seasons, three days of the week, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, were devoted to prayer and fasting to call down God's blessing on the new season and on the ordinations which took place during the vigil held on the Saturday-Sunday night.

The Ember Days are no longer universally marked on the General Roman Calendar, but are practiced according to the local ordinary. In the 1969 Calendar reform (see General Instruction on the Roman Missal), the observance of Ember Days was left to the discretion of the local conference of bishops, and can be adjusted and expanded. In the USA it is mainly the rural areas that the bishops choose to officially observe Ember Days, but in other countries they are observed. While Ember Days are not part of the whole community worship, personal observance at home or small communities is not discouraged.

Advent, which is of more recent institution in the development of the Liturgical Year, has endowed the December Ember days with their special character of expectation and preparation for Christmas, thus reducing the idea of fasting and penance to a secondary position.

Advent Embertide marked four different themes:

  • Thanksgiving for the Harvest: Traditionally the Advent Ember Days marked thanksgiving for the olive harvest. Olive oil is used for the Holy Oils in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick, and also for special consecrations and blessings, such as for a new church or altar stone. The thanksgiving emphasis was expressed on Ember Wednesday, with offering of first fruits and distribution of blessed food baskets for the needy.
  • Days of Spiritual Renewal: Holy Mother Church provides us so many opportunities to redirect, refresh and renew. Our human frailty needs reminders to resolve to start anew. These three days are opportunities to add extra prayer and penance for ourselves and others.
  • Praying for Priests: For centuries this Ember Saturday was the only day in the Church's year for conferring the sacrament of Holy Orders. The Church no longer regularly ordains priests during the times of the Quarterly Ember Days, but this is a special time, particularly Ember Saturday, to pray for priests, particularly the ones who are about to be ordained within the year.
  • Reflecting the Spirit of the Season: Each set of Ember Days reflect the season of the Liturgical Year in which they occur. The Advent Ember Days fall near the end of Advent, and the traditional liturgy summarizes the weeks of longing for the Messiah. The Masses include the Messianic prophecies regarding Christ’s Birth and Epiphany in order to prepare for Christmas. The 1962 liturgy had Ember Wednesday’s Gospel focused on the Incarnation, Ember Friday presented St. Elizabeth and the Visitation of Mary, and Ember Saturday featured St. John the Baptist.

Of particular note is the ancient liturgy of Missa Aurea or “Golden Mass” on Ember Wednesday. On this day the Church celebrated the “golden mystery” of our Faith, the moment the Word became flesh, the Incarnation of Christ in Mary’s womb. In the current Roman Missal, the Golden Mass is not lost but celebrated in the liturgy on December 20, the O Antiphon day “O Key of David.”

The Stational churches were part of the Ember Days, with Ember Wednesdays always being with Mary, Station with Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major).
—adapted from Saint Andrew Daily Missal, Pius Parsch, OSB, The Church's Year of Grace and Benedict Baur, The Light of the World

For those following the Jesse Tree, you can either continue through Christmas Eve following Catholic Culture's Jesse Tree, or use symbols based on the “O” Antiphons (see Jesse Tree Instructions).

     Jesse Tree, Day 18 ~ St. Zechariah or Zachary
     Jesse Tree Overview

O Key of David

"Come, lead the captives from their prison." With the key of His almighty power, the Redeemer has opened the prison in which poor, sinful man was languishing in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Key of David, come and deliver the captives from their prison. The Church wishes that by the practice of virtue we should free ourselves from sin and unfaithfulness. She asks God that He may spare us from punishment, deliver us from His wrath, from an evil death, and from hell. The Church prays that God may free us from a heart that clings to the world, from a spirit that is pleased with worldliness, from a human respect that degrades us. She urges us to return kindness and affection for scorn, love and compassion for persecution. Our Holy Mother the Church prays that we may be delivered from ourselves, from our self-love, and from all our secret sins. She prays that God may detach our hearts from all that can bind them to earth, for he who has been freed from the things of the earth is free with the freedom of Christ.

Key of David, come and deliver the captives from their prison. By Thy coming free us from all that separates us from God. Bring us freedom and redemption; incline us to surrender ourselves completely to God. So all pray for each, and each for all.
—Excerpted from The Light of the World by Benedict Baur, O.S.B.

Fourth O Antiphon: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
Symbols: Key

Come, and bring forth the captive from his prison.

Traditional Antiphon: O Key of David, and Scepter of the House of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens; Come and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israël, qui aperis, et nemo claudit, claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

Vespers 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.

The key is the emblem of authority and power. Christ is the Key of the House of David who opens to us the full meaning of the scriptural prophecies, and reopens for all mankind the gate of Heaven.

Recommended Readings: Isaiah 22:22-25

St. Dominic of Silos
St. Dominic of Silos was defender of the faith. Born in Canas, Navarre, Spain, circa 1000, he entered the Benedictines at San Millan de Ia Cogolla. King Garcia III of Navarre challenged him when he became abbot of the monastery, and Dominic refused to surrender part of the Benedictine lands to the crown. For this he was exiled, going to King Ferdinand I of Castile and Leon, who made him abbot of St. Sebastian Abbey at Silos, now called St. Dominic's.

Dominic reformed the abbey, built the cloisters in Romanesque style, and started a scriptorium that became famous throughout the region. One of the most beloved saints in Spain, Dominic also rescued Christian slaves from the Moors.

Dominic's shrine is noted for its place in the birth of Dominic de Guzman, the founder of the Order of Preachers. Dominic de Guzman's mother begged for a child there. Dominic was also noted for miracles of healing.
—Excerpted from 2001-2014

Patronage: against hydrophobia; against insects; against mad dogs; against rabies; captives; pregnant women; prisoners; shepherds

Symbols and Representation: abbot surrounded by the Seven Virtues; chains, referring to prisoners and slaves; mitered abbot enthroned with a book, a veil tied to his crozier

Highlights and Things to Do:

St. Zephyrinus
Commodus, looked favorably on the Christians at the onset of his reign. His son Caracalla had been raised by a Christian nurse, and the emperor himself had been cured of some ailment by a Christian. However, Severus later reversed his position toward the Christians, probably due to their unpopularity with the Roman pagans, and he issued a decree forbidding any person to become either a Jew or a Christian. The persecution commenced once again.

Zephyrinus was a Roman and the son of Habundius. Some sources indicate that his strength did not lie in leadership, but that he depended greatly on the more capable and practiced Calixtus, who, since his release from the labor mines, had been rehabilitated and devoted himself to the Church. Consequently, he was appointed archdeacon. Not only did he direct the lower clergy for Zephyrinus but he was also entrusted with the administration of the official cemetery which the Church now owned.

Heresy stormed the Church from all sides, but Zephyrinus adhered firmly to the doctrine set forth by the apostles. The excommunicated tanner Theodotus continued to teach that Christ was not the true Son of God. He had even gone so far as to set up his own church and place a paid bishop in residence. This bishop, called Natalius, had previously been tortured for confessing the true faith. According to legend, angels were sent to Natalius in visions to rebuke him for joining Theodotus, since Jesus did not want anyone who had suffered for Him to be cast out of the Church. Natalius appeared to have seen the light; he threw himself upon the mercy of Zephyrinus and begged to be pardoned. Natalius was readmitted to communion by the bishop of Rome after considerable penance.

Zephyrinus decreed that all ordinations, even those of mere clerics, be performed before the assembled clergy and laity.

Another heresy, called Modalism, taught by Praxeas, Noetus, and Sabellius, was brought to the attention of Zephyrinus. Followers of this theory obliterated the distinctions between the entities of the Trinity. Zephyrinus immediately condemned this, again citing the original teachings of the apostles.

Zephyrinus was said to have been martyred and was buried in his own cemetery on the Appian Way.
—Excerpted from The Popes: A Papal History, J.V. Bartlett

Symbols and Representation: Monstrance; triple cross.

Highlights and Things to Do:

Today is Day Five of the Christmas Novena

Ember Wednesday of Advent
Station with Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major):

The station church for Ember Wednesday in Advent is the church of St. Mary Major in Rome. The liturgy invites us to visit the home of the Virgin of Nazareth and presents us the scenes of the Annunciation. Reverently beholding the holy Virgin, we contemplate the great mystery of the Incarnation. The traditional Mass text for the Golden Mass, or Rorate Mass or Missa Aurea, just before Christmas, emphasizes the Old Testament background leading to His birth. In the great Church of St. Mary Major the crib is venerated, which brings Bethlehem very close; Mary is our patron. She typifies the Church, for the role she played at Christ's first advent, the Church now takes in the Savior's liturgical advent as He manifests Himself in the mysteries (adapted from Pius Parsch, OSB, The Church's Year of Grace and Benedict Baur, The Light of the World).

For more on Santa Maria Maggiore, see:

For further information on the Station Churches, see The Stational Church.