December 22, 2014
Provincial House, New Rochelle
“O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust” (Antiphon).
The breviary, the Lectionary, and the Christmas novena give us 3 different versions of today’s O antiphon, which seems a little strange. Why wouldn’t they all be the same?
I’ve quoted the 2d part of the antiphon from Evening Prayer of the breviary. Neither the Lectionary nor the novena refers to “the mighty arch of man.” The novena sees Christ as uniting 2 disparate things into one, while the Lectionary calls him the “keystone of the Church” rather than of mankind.
In any case, “keystone” seems to allude to Psalm 118:22 about the stone rejected by the builders that becomes the cornerstone. When Jesus cites that in the Synoptic Gospels, a few translations render it as “keystone” rather than “cornerstone”; but most stick with “cornerstone.”
|Entrance to the chapel of Colditz Castle illustrating |
the keystone directly above the door (Wikipedia)
To be sure, a cornerstone and a keystone aren’t the same thing. But they share a similarity in that both are essential for the support of their respective structures. The keystone—according to Merriam-Webster—is “the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place—see ARCH illustration.” If you need further explanations about keystones, you should consult the member of the community who comes from the Keystone State. Both the right and the left sides of an arch lean against the keystone, which not only holds up those sections but can even bear weight above, e.g., over a gate, a door, or a window. (I hope that’s architecturally correct, lest I hear about it later.)
Tonite we call Jesus Christ the keystone of the structure that is the human race. As a keystone keeps all the other stones of an arch in place, so does our Lord Jesus hold up and support this “structure” that God has reconstructed from the rubble of our sins—from that fallen state that today’s collect in the Missal speaks of.
The antiphon speaks of God’s creating man out of the dust of the earth—the 2d version of creation in Genesis. How well we remember that we are dust or dirt or clay—however you want to put it—and to that we shall return. Our personal dissolution mirrors what has happened to our entire race because of sin: how we lost the glory of being God’s children and heirs of heaven “in the company of our Redeemer,” as today’s collect puts it. The whole of humanity is heading for what the Brits call the “dustbin.” You’ve just got to read the headlines or watch the evening news to get the picture of the state we’re in.
That is, until the King of the Nations steps in to put everything back together; to rebuild humanity as, again, the glorious children of God, and to promise to rebuild us individually on the Last Day, restoring our mortal dust into something new beyond our imagining, fully alive, everlastingly alive.
This new and redeemed humanity is a new creature. God has recreated the world, given us all hope, invited us all to share in the life and virtues of Christ. When we act in Christ, are we not rebuilding the human race, giving it a little bit more conformity to the divine image? When we act in Christ, we lean upon him; and truly we need his support to do what is right and just, day in and day out. He is the keystone to our individual lives as redeemed people, and to our life together as a race.
So we beseech him in this antiphon to come and save us: to come into our individual hearts, to come into our Church, to come into the entire race and make us new, to reshape our mortal clay and our stony hearts, to recreate us with grace into his own likeness.