The Easter Proclamation - The Exsultet

The quintessential chant of the Paschal Triduum is, without a doubt, the great hymn of exultant praise, the Exsultet or, more properly, the Praeconium Paschale, that is sung at the beginning of the Great Vigil of Easter.  Liturgical scholars date this ancient hymn in praise of the Risen Lord to as early as the 5th century.  The ancient Sacramentaries of the Church, or books containing the liturgical texts for the Mass, give witness to its universal presence in the Vigil liturgy by the 7th century.

This melismatic (elaborate) chant is most properly sung by the deacon of the liturgy.  If a deacon is not present, or his musical skill may not be up to the task of singing this challenging piece of music, it may be sung by a priest or even a layperson – so important is its sung form in the Vigil liturgy.  It would be absolutely abhorrent for it to ever be recited!

In 1973 as a Deacon, I first chanted the Exsultet when I was assigned as a weekend Deacon in my 4th year at St. John’s Seminary to St. Margaret Mary parish in Lomita.  The pastor had a deep appreciation for Church music and chant and asked me if I wouldn’t mind chanting this ancient text in its original Latin form.  I gladly obliged.  It was an unforgettable experience that has remained with me as a grateful memory these 45 years.  In the course of my active ministry, I was blessed to chant this Easter praise for nearly every year of my priesthood, until my singing voice ‘gave up its ghost’ several years ago!

There is an ancient maxim in our liturgical lexicon that I have made reference to in previous posts, that is, the law of prayer shapes what it is we believe – (Lex orandi statuit legem credendi).  And so, for the faithful Christian, the true meaning of Easter – what it is we believe about the Resurrection of Christ – is encapsulated in the text of this marvelous and stunning chant.

While the present English version of this chant that was incorporated into the revised, 2011, translation of the Roman Missal, is one of the more successful efforts at what is generally a literal and less than poetic translation of the original Latin text, the following, is the ICEL translation from the Missal that was completed in 1998 but, sadly, never saw the light of day.  In my humble opinion, it captures the vibrancy and depth of meaning of this ancient proclamation of Easter Praise. 

For those who might be fascinated by this topic, I present two video renditions of the Latin chant.  The first, seen at the beginning of this post, is a beautiful, rather straight forward rendition that was done at the Papal Easter Vigil some years ago. The Deacon chants it with precision and in the traditional fashion.  The second, that concludes this post, was done at the Abbey of Fontfroide in France.  It is done by a priest who chants it with an emotion and intensity (with some emotional chant liberties! – I think he’s a Spaniard!) that befits the beauty and meaning of the text.

Here follows the ICEL 1998 translation:

Exult and sing, O heav’nly choirs of angels! Rejoice, all you powers in heaven and on earth! Jesus Christ our King is risen!Sound the trumpet, sing of our salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness of your king! Lands that once lay covered by darkness, see Christ’s glory filling all the universe!

Rejoice, O mother Church, with all your children, resplendent in your risen Saviour’s light!Let our joyful voices resound this night!Let God’s people shake these walls with shouts of praise!

A deacon says:

Rejoice, beloved friends and heirs with Christ, standing with me in this wondrous light!Pray that God grant to me, a deacon of the Church, strength to sing this Easter candle’s praises.

A priest or cantor says:

Rejoice, beloved friends and heirs with Christ, standing with me in this wondrous light! Join me in seeking from God’s Holy Spirit grace to sing this Easter proclamation.

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give thanks and praise.

It is truly right and justthat with full hearts and minds and voices,we should praise you, unseen God, almighty Father, and your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ ransomed us with his precious bloodand, by nailing to the cross the decree that condemned us, he paid to you, eternal Father, the price of Adam’s sin.

This is our passover feast,when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the nightwhen first you set the children of Israel free: you saved our ancestors from slavery in Egypt and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night when you led your people by a pillar of fire: with your light you showed them the way and destroyed all the darkness of sin.

This is the night when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement, are restored to grace and grow in holiness.

This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and in triumphant glory rose from the grave.

What good would life have been for us had Christ not come as our Redeemer?

O God, how wonderful your care for us! How boundless your merciful love! To ransom a slave, you gave up a Son!

O necessary sin of Adam, destroyed by the death of Christ! O happy fault, which gained for us so great a Redeemer! O night truly blest! O night chosen above all others to see Christ rise in glory from the dead!

This is the night of which the Scripture says: ”Even darkness is not dark for you, and the night will shine as clear as the day!”

How holy is this night, which heals our wounds and washes all evil away!

A night to restore lost innocence and bring mourners joy! A night to cast out hatred! A night for seeking peace and humbling pride!

O truly blessed night when heaven is wedded to earth and we are reconciled with God!

Therefore, Father most holy, in the joy of this night, receive our evening sacrifice of praise, the solemn offering of your holy people.

Accept this Easter candle, a flame divided but undimmed, a pillar of fire that glows to the honour of God.

Let it mingle with the lights of heaven and continue bravely burning to dispel the darkness of this night!

May the Morning Star which never sets find this flame still burning. Christ is that Morning Star, who rose to shed his peaceful light on all creation and lives and reigns with you for ever and ever.  AMEN.

Reflections on the Easter Vigil

 Egino Weinert - 1920-2012

Egino Weinert - 1920-2012

My friends, the rich and splendid liturgy of our Church once again draws us into the great mystery of the Risen one – Jesus the Lord – who has conquered death in His Glorious Resurrection and opened for each of us the gift and promise of eternity.  No longer are we to be like our ancestors of old, waiting in anxious anticipation for the anointed one who would save us from our sins.  No longer are we like the enslaved Hebrews in the land of Egypt, for in Jesus the Risen One, we are freed from anything that would ever hold us captive.   Tonight, in the Risen Lord, we remember and  celebrate again our own transformation in grace. 

As the light of our great Easter Candle enlightens the darkness of our assemby, it is Jesus the Risen one who will forever stand before us to enlighten our path and to guide us into the way of eternity. 

As we listen with grateful hearts and minds to the history of our salvation enshrined in the great stories found in God’s Holy Word tonight, that gift and grace is realized again tonight in our hearing.

As we sing our Alleluias and hear again the story of the empty tomb and the words of the Angel questioning why we are looking for the Risen One among the dead, the hope of generations of Christians is once again renewed.

As we, in a few moments, joyfully witness new Christians coming forth from the font of Baptism and fellow Christians received into Full Communion with our Catholic Family, we rejoice with the saints and angels in a Church that is ever ancient and ever new.

My sisters and brothers, may this graced time of celebration renew our faith in the One who has conquered death.  May it once again fill our hearts with hope in the face of whatever darkness we must struggle with in life.  For Christ is Risen.  He is Risen indeed.  Alleluia, Alleluia! 

Reflections on Good Friday

 Icon written by Aidan Hart

Icon written by Aidan Hart

We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.

My brothers and sisters our Eucharistic Acclamation, silenced on this singular day in the Church’s year of grace when the Eucharist is not celebrated, captures the heart of the mystery of our faith.

Through the paschal journey of the one who emptied himself to become one like us in all things but sin, the Lord Jesus has embraced even the human reality of death itself as he fulfilled the Father’s plan to draw all things to himself in his love.

We gather in this holy place, our altar stripped bare, the abiding Eucharistic presence of the Lord removed, sacred images taken away - leaving only one that rivets our minds and hearts to the profound mystery of a limitless love - the image of the cross.

Our Passion Proclamation this Good Friday is that which has been proclaimed on this solemn day from the earliest days of the Church - from the Gospel of John. A Passion narrative that proclaims not a victim but a victor who, with courage, embraces his destiny for the life of the world.

In a few moments the simple wooden cross will be lovingly borne into our midst, held high as the trophy of all those for whom the darkness of this world has been vanquished by the light and life of our victorious Savior. That cross has now become the sign of our victory with Christ over the power of sin and death. For this is the wood of the cross, on which hung the savior of the world.

As we venerate the wood of the cross, let us bring to that symbol of triumph, the challenges and difficulties, the pains and anxieties, the worries and sufferings of all those whom we both know and love as well as all those who suffer within the human family alone or abandoned. May they come to know the power and freedom of Him whose unconditional love is boundless and whose mercy is without end. Come, let us worship.