EXSULTET: WDTPRS and audio

The EXSULTET is one of the most spectacular moments of all the Church’s liturgical life.

When it is sung well in Latin the Church is in her glory!

I have fond memories of singing the Exsultet. The first time, I was a deacon on retreat at a monastery in central Italy, where the largest community of Benedictine nuns in Italy sing every word of their office and Mass in Gregorian chant in their 12th c. abbey. Another time, I was asked by my bishop (of an ancient Roman Suburbicarian diocese) to sing the Exsultet in Latin. We started outside in the deep night in the square before an enormous fire. It took over 10 minutes to get everyone inside, with long pauses between each “Lumen Christi!” The candle was the size of a Scottish caber. Though there was still much movement and exuberance I started singing, and when they heard the rarely use Latin and chant the great crowd quieted. As I sang about the “red-glowing flame” being “divided into parts” I could see a thousand candles and hear the fire still crackling outside as it cast flickering glows through the main door.

Most precious, however, are the times I sang the Exsultet in my home parish.

Here is my rendering of the 1970 Missale Romanum version of the Exsultet. Alas, there is no space to give you the Latin also. The Exsultet is also called the Praeconium Paschale. Paschale is an adjective of a Latinized Hebrew word pascha, for the Passover meal of the lamb. The sure and certain Lewis & Short Dictionary says the adjective praeconius, a, um is “of or belonging to a praeco or public crier” while the substantive praeconium is “a crying out in public; a proclaiming, spreading abroad, publishing.” In a Christian context this of course also infers the Good News! A praeconium is simultaneously a profession of faith and a call to faith extended to all who hear.

The Exsultet is a poem, elements of which go back to St. Ambrose (+397). It is to be sung by a deacon (or priest or cantor) during the Easter Vigil as a hymn of praise to God for the light of the Paschal Candle. The text became part of the Roman liturgy around the 9th century. The text is theologically packed. It contains a summary of Easter’s mystery. Christ is risen: we too can rise in Him. This was prepared for from the fall of man, directed by a loving Father, and awaits only the end of the world, although our baptismal character allows us to live the reality now: Already, but not yet!

There is an introductory invitation to “Exult!” (whence its name) given to three different groups: the angels, the Church on earth, and the whole Church together. There follows an account of works of God in the Paschal Mystery and the history of salvation. It begins with a dialog just like a Preface during Holy Mass.

Like a Eucharistic Prayer the Exsultet is a remembrance (anamnesis) which makes the past mysteries present to us. The singer deacon begs the congregation to pray for him as he tells the story of our family history of salvation with all the foreshadowing and “types” of our redemption. So great is God’s ability to turn evil to good that the deacon dares to call Adam’s fall our “happy fault… felix culpa” since because of it we were sent the gift of our Savior. You hear of the work of bees and the shattering of chains of sin. All evil is driven away.

The constant refrain is that this is a blessed night when heavenly and earthly realities merge together and become one.

Finally, there is a humble petition that God the Father will accept our Paschal candle, our evening sacrifice of praise, and make it into one of the lights of the heavens.

This poem/hymn/prayer is too much to grasp all at once. But year by year we have the chance to hear it renewed in the heart of the Church’s greatest night. The mysteries within it do not change, but we do. Each year we are a little different. We can hear it each year with new insight and understanding.

Consider the setting.

For forty days we have done penance. We participated at the anniversary of Holy Mass and the Priesthood on Holy Thursday with the mandatum and the procession to the altar of repose, Christ in agony in Gethsemane. On Good Friday, the day with no Mass, after our humble prostration before the Crucified Lord we stood for the singing of the Passion. Now we are in a dark church. The fire was kindled and the “Light of Christ” was thrice announced. The faithful have little candles sparked to life from the single flame of the Paschal candle, the “Christ candle”, now lighted as the symbol of His resurrection. The candle is incensed and then:



2002 Missale Romanum

Exult now O ye angelic throngs of the heavens:
Exult O ye divine mysteries:
and let the saving trumpet resound for the victory of so great a King.
Let the earthly realm also be joyful, made radiant by such flashings like lightning:
and, made bright with the splendor of the eternal King,
let it perceive that it has dismissed the entire world’s gloom.
Let Mother Church rejoice as well,
adorned with the blazes of so great a light:
and let this royal hall ring with the great voices of the peoples.
Wherefore, most beloved brothers and sisters,
you here present to such a wondrous brightness of this holy light,
I beseech you, together with me
invoke the mercy of Almighty God.
Let Him who deigned to gather me in among the number of the Levites,
by no merits of mine,
while pouring forth the glory of His own light
enable me to bring to fullness the praise of this waxen candle.

Deacon: The Lord be with you!
Response: And with your spirit!
D: Raise your hearts on high!
R: We now have them present to the Lord!
D: Let us then give thanks to the Lord our God!
R: This is worthy and just!

Truly it is worthy and just
to resound forth with the whole of the heart, disposition of mind,
and by the ministry of the voice,
the invisible God the Father Almighty,
and His Only-begotten Son
our Lord Jesus Christ,

Who, on our behalf, resolved Adam’s debt to the Eternal Father
and cleansed with dutiful bloodshed the bond of the ancient crime.

For these are the Paschal holy days,
in which that true Lamb is slain,
by Whose Blood the doorposts of the faithful are consecrated.
This is the night
in which first of all You caused our forefathers,
the children of Israel brought forth from Egypt,
to pass dry shod through the Red Sea.
This is the night
which purged the darkness of sins by the illumination of the pillar.
This is the night
which today restores to grace and unites in sanctity throughout the world Christ’s believers,
separated from the vices of the world and the darkness of sins.
This is the night
in which, once the chains of death were undone,
Christ the victor arose from the nether realm.
For it would have profited us nothing to have been born,
unless it had been fitting for us to be redeemed.
O wondrous condescension of Your dutiful concern for us!
O inestimable affection of sacrificial love:
You delivered up Your Son that You might redeem the slave!
O truly needful sin of Adam,
that was blotted out by the death of Christ!
O happy fault,
that merited to have such and so great a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night,
that alone deserved to know the time and hour
in which Christ rose again from the nether world!
This is the night about which it was written:
And night shall be made as bright as day:
and night is as my brightness for me.
Therefore the sanctification of this night puts to flight all wickedness, cleanses sins,
and restores innocence to the fallen and gladness to the sorrowful.
It drives away hatreds, procures concord, and makes dominions bend.
Therefore, in this night of grace,
accept, O Holy Father, the evening sacrifice of this praise,
which Holy Church renders to You
in the solemn offering of this waxen candle

by the hands of Your ministers from the work of bees.
We are knowing now the proclamations of this column,
which glowing fire kindles in honor of God.
Which fire, although it is divided into parts,
is knowing no loss from its light being lent out.
For it is nourished by the melting streams of wax,
which the mother bee produced for the substance of this precious torch.
O truly blessed night,
in which heavenly things are joined to those of earth,
the divine to the human!
Therefore, we beseech You, O Lord,
that this waxen candle, consecrated in honor of Your name,
may continue unfailing to dispel the darkness of this night.
And once it is accepted as a placating sacrifice,
may it be mingled with the heavenly lights.
Let the morning star meet with its flame:
that very star, I say, which knows no setting:
Christ Your Son, who, having returned from the nether realm,
broke serene like the dawn upon the human race,
and now lives and reigns forever and ever.

EXSULTET: WDTPRS and audio
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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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54 Responses to EXSULTET: WDTPRS and audio

  1. A Random Friar says:

    Wait…we put the bees back? Or is it still in the Latin?

  2. Aelric says:

    Not to be overly emotional, but I cannot listen to/pray the Exultet without tears.

    To Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian,” I answer: the Exultet explains why I am a Christian.

  3. The Latin Bees are still flying around in the Latin Exsultet text. Mama Bee is there too.

    Apparently English bees all have the night off.

    I have no doubt that the new English translation will get them back on the job.

  4. Aelric: A pretty good place to start.

  5. Nathaniel says:

    Fr. Z,

    I have had your Exultet recording on my ipod for at least a year and maybe two. I listen to it several times during the year. It is a beautiful hymn and your rendering does it justice. Thanks for sharing.

  6. MCH says:

    I just came back from Easter Vigil at the Manila Cathedral, and the Exsultet was chanted exquisitely. Fr. Zuhlsdorf is right in saying that a well-sung Exsultet is the Church in glory!

  7. Supertradmom says:

    O truly needful sin of Adam,
    that was blotted out by the death of Christ!
    O happy fault,
    that merited to have such and so great a Redeemer!
    Thank you, thank you, thank you, as we shall not be able to hear this in person. What a great way to begin the Vigil by listening to this online.

  8. Supertradmom says:

    Just wondering why the translation omits the reference to Christ at the end?

  9. Brian Day says:

    Fr Z,
    You have a wonderful singing voice.

    Since Our Lord did not give me the ability to sing worth a darn (my singing has been compared to fingernails on a chalkboard), I normally don’t follow chant tones too closely. So my question is, does the Exsultet have its own setting, or does it fit within the standard Prophesy/Epistle/Gospel tones?

  10. Laura Lowder says:

    The Exsultet is not something that should be sung by a woman, but for the last two years I sang it because there was no one else available. I loved it – and still do. This year I’m back “home” in a parish that has a priest and seminarians who will sing it as it should be done. My spirits lift high when I hear the opening call to Rejoice.

  11. jasmine tea's mom & pop says:

    We well remember you singing the Exsultet at the Easter VIgil at the home parish! So beautiful. I hope we will still have HH’s “chariots and charioteers” tonight. [CLASSIC!]

  12. Thomas says:

    Helas! My pastor is singing the abridged form :(

  13. Jim Dorchak says:

    I worked my honey bees today the first time this spring. I lost 4 out of 7 of my hives this winter, which is really a bad year. [We lost all of ours at the Sabine Farm. Sniff. Time to start again.]

    The greatest bee keeper of history was a monk from Buckfast Abbey named brother Adam. I believe he died in 2007. The Exsultet always touches my heart as well especially since I am a bee keeper.

    By the way my bees are Italian in breed, so I guess that they are close to Latin as you can get.

    Hopefully we will have a good honey year.

    Jim Dorchak

  14. Henry Edwards says:

    The Latin Bees are still flying around in the Latin Exsultet text. Mama Bee is there too.

    I just listened to the Exsultet chanted in Latin in the Easter Vigil at St. Peter’s Basilica, following the Latin text verbatim in my 1962 missal. [Really?. Are you saying they used the older text of the E rather than the Novus Ordo text? The older has the prayers for the Pope, etc…. but still…]
    Yes, both the worker bees and the mother there are still there.

    I used to assume the disappearance of the bees was a Novus Ordo thing, but No, it’s just another fruit of ICEL that we English speakers alone enjoy.

  15. Mary says:

    I will have to download the podcast. My former pastor used to sing/chant the Exsultet, our new pastor does not sing, so I assume our female cantor will take over the job of signing, unless they give our temporary vicar, who was born and raised in Poland the chance to chat. I was nearly in tears at yesterday’s Good Friday service as it was the first time in nearly my 16 years of being at the parish that the priest chanted the general intercessions and was able to actually chant “this is the wood of the Cross…”

    Alas, I will offer up the little things that annoy me tonight, and enjoy the parts that are done correctly. ;)

    I always remember from the days of my youth (not that far removed as I’ll be 30 in December) that one of the priests from our parish in the Bronx would always chant the Exsultet, I always remember distinctly the “this is the night” parts. One of these years I’ll venture over to the Fraternity of St. Peter’s Our Lady of Fatima Chapel in Pequannock for their services.

  16. LCB says:

    Stories abound of the most hardened of sinners, those that Satan held so tightly even Saints doubted they could be won for Christ them, ‘accidentally’ finding themselves in a Church and encountering the great liturgical triumph of the Latin Rite– the O Antiphons, the Miserere Mei Deus, and the Exsultet… and being converted instantly.

    No heart can withstand the beauty of the greatest truth, that Jesus Christ is Lord Forever, presented in the the best way humans are capable of. When this is done, God pours out his grace in indescribable ways. And souls are saved.

  17. Isaac says:

    Father, I really can’t wait until you can come back and sing it again. Until then, my dad’s recording the readings so we can always have the “chariots and charioteers” on file… I hope Alan will light the high mass candles in his reverent way tonight.

  18. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: Are you saying they used the older text of the E rather than the Novus Ordo text?

    No. It appeared to be the Novus Ordo text. I followed it in my 1962 missal — with an occasional slight variateion — so far as to verify that the mother bee was still there, having produced the wax “for the substance of this precious light”. However, it stopped short of the older-form Exsultet’s concluding prayers for the Pope and our temporal rulers.

  19. Given the size and age of my family, the Easter Vigil is not a realistic option. But we prayed the Exultet tonight for all the catechumens and candidates entering the Church tonight. What a marvelous prayer for a wondrous night.

  20. [And we included the bees. ;-)]

  21. Jose says:

    I have the privilege of hearing the cantor practice this all week, truly glorious!

  22. Daniel Kirkland says:

    This prayer is simply incredible. I was always moved by the “happy fault” of Adam and buoyed by the constant refrain, “This is the night.” Such optimism and exuberance! It is almost a shame that I was serving tonight…thinking about the order of things does not allow one to really absorb such a profound prayer.

    Surrexit Christus, alleluia!

  23. Al says:

    I know that out at New Melleray Abbey they have the lines with the bees in & have for years. I suspect that the fact they are Cistercians may have something to do with it.

    & while I hope & pray the new translation puts them back, I still don’t understand what justification there was back in 1970 for taking them out in the 1st place. (But then, that could be said about a lot of how the translation was done as well.)

  24. Fr W says:

    Alas,
    Our parish music director has a ‘soloist’ sing in grand style – like opera – another song in place of the Exultet. Even more interesting, is that he omits the Gloria on Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil! You see, it ‘just doesn’t flow.’ The Pastor lets him do this, I have found that it is not possible to reason with the man. He is getting quite old however.

  25. Josiah Ross says:

    Wonderful,Sad about ICEL removing concepts they did’nt like. But we had a real treat: The exultet was sung in Latin, and the mass was celebrated ad orientem , Lots of polyphony and choral music, including my favorite, Palestrina’s setting of the ‘Sicut Cervus.’

  26. Matt says:

    I am in tears.
    Its been a tough year but by no measure a “bad” year. GOD did this for US!

  27. Lisa says:

    Bless you, Father, for sharing this.
    And thank you, Lord. for blessing Father with such a beautiful voice with which to sing Your praises.

  28. JustDave says:

    Our priest backed by the choir did a version of the Exsultet that was arranged by David Haas. :(

  29. Make me a Spark says:

    This part of our mass moved me the most this year also. It has been one of the hardest years ever for me also. I needed a perspective for all the death and loss of 2008.

  30. Just came from the Easter Vigil at Mater Ecclesiae. My third Mass in the EF, all three have been Solemn High Masses. I know how to pick them :) The Exsultet was just absolutely beautiful. The entire Mass was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. Truly sublime.

  31. To all our Western brethren celebrating the Resurrection today, have a very blessed Pascha!

    Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb, bestowing Life! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

    Christ is risen!
    Christos aneste!
    Al-Masih qam!
    M’shee ho dkom!
    Kristos tenestwal!
    Christos voskrese!
    Chrystos voskres!
    Hristos a înviat!
    Christos haryav i merelotz!
    Krishti u ngjall!
    Kristus aq ungwektaq!

  32. jasmine tea says:

    Shu wa makoto ni yomigaerareta — The Lord is risen as He said!
    Alleluia!

    Thank you so much for this post and podcast, Father Z! I’ll never forget hearing it for the first time back at the home parish.

  33. Nicko Acks says:

    Fr. Z. Thank you for this wonderful post. I hope that you and the others her have a blessed day.

  34. LCB says:

    Rightwingprof,

    Truly he is risen! Christos Aneste!

  35. little gal says:

    “O truly blessed night,in which heavenly things are joined to those of earth,the divine to the human”

    I attended the Easter Vigil last night and heard this for the first time. I cannot be sure if the entire Exsultet was sung in Latin as I had only the (English) Misselette to follow and when the Latin started, I got lost and just closed my eyes and listened…although I could not understand anything, I ‘knew’ that something was happening and the text above is exactly the thought that crossed my mind (heaven & earth were joined), even though I didn’t know what the meaning of the Latin was. It’s impossible to describe the experience. The glory of the church,the darkness and then light,incense, the majesty of 6-7( I’m not sure how many)vested priests,a deacon and altar boys, the candle ceremony, the readings.

    My only criticism is that a family with numerous rugrats sat next to me. These children were of an age to know how to sit quietly and they talked throughout the entire service.

  36. mrsmontoya says:

    It was sung, and sung well at our Vigil last night. Thanks to Fr. posting the text here I was able to hear the words more clearly and understand what I was hearing better than before. It was wonderful.

    Thank you Father Z.

  37. Ann says:

    The singing of the exsultet was really amazing. It gave me chills and I wish that I could be where it is sung like that someday.

    Awesome!

  38. JoyfulMom7 says:

    What an absolutely beautiful rendition, Father. Thank you for this Easter gift.

  39. Hearing the Exsultet chanted at the Easter Vigil amid the light of the new fire is truly and by far the highlight of my entire year.

    Thank you so much for sharing this post and your recording, Father, it’s beautiful!

    Have a holy and blessed Easter!

  40. Greg says:

    I love the Easter Vigil, and spent a number of hours last night celebrating with monks at a local Trappist monastery.

    One part of the Exsultet, however, always raises my eyebrows. I’m a theologian specializing in the patristic tradition, and wondered if you, Father, or anyone else could enlighten me about the theological origins of the following lines:

    O truly needful sin of Adam,
    that was blotted out by the death of Christ!
    O happy fault,
    that merited to have such and so great a Redeemer!

    Those lines pack quite a theological punch, and I’m not entirely comfortable with the theology contained therein. Any enlightenment would be appreciated.

  41. Jenny says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Father for posting this. I love this. I’ve been looking for a long time for a version and this is simply wonderful. Really, this is just so special.

    God Bless you for everything you do and for having a lovely voice too!

  42. Alisa K says:

    Thank you for this beautiful recording! I missed the Vigil this year, but hearing these words make my heart soar with deep sentiment.

  43. rosebudsal says:

    This was beautiful thank you for sharing it, Father. I went to the Easter Vigil for the first time and at my parish it was sung in English, but still it was moving and gorgeous. In fact, it was the most beautiful Mass I’ve ever attended. I can’t wait until next year so I can experience my second Easter Vigil Mass. I suspect it will be a lot richer and beautiful. I also decided that after this morning’s regular Sunday Mass, I will only attend the Easter Vigil from now on.

    Maria

  44. Mary says:

    I listened to the podcast right before I went to bed last night, and excited to realize that I had “Fulton Sheen Sunday Missal” that I found at one of the garage sales my parish’s youth group as as a fundraiser and was doubly excited when I realized I was able to read the Latin while hearing it sung.

    Our parish opted for the “traditional” chanted version, seeing as neither our pastor or vicar sings our cantor did it, and I must say she did impress me, I would have preferred our male cantor, but what is done is done. I was able to follow along with our Breaking Bread missal/hymnal. Overall our Vigil was done without me having any issues with it, the usual not enough readings, I like when they are all done vs. the minimum, but alas you have to deal with what you are given.

    Thanks Fr. Z for this blog, it has educated me on quite a few things and I happy to bring that education to my parish. :)

  45. Jason says:

    Dear Father, I attended my first Easter Vigil in the Extraordinary Form! This post inspired me to go to this Mass and I payed extra attention to the Exultet that was beautifully proclaimed by the parish priest. Thank you for helping me grow in appreciation of the beauty of our Christian heritage :)

  46. Gary Heitkamp says:

    When I read the article and listened to the audio I thought of my favorite Latin/English website and found the Exultet with both the 1962 and 1975 versions. If you are interested then visit: http://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Hymni/Exsultet.html

    Michael Martin has countless Latin and English prayers plus history of them.

  47. Richard A says:

    Our parish has no deacons, but several years ago an associate was posted to us for a while who had a good voice. And you could just tell, hearing him singing it, that all the crap a priest has to put up with is worth it, because once a year he gets to sing the Exsultet.

    Christ is Risen!

  48. Rob Cartusciello says:

    The Exultet is one of the great Christian hymns of all time. Paul II quoted the Exultet twice in Redemptor Hominis.

    I have always been horrified by the elimination of the bees in the ICEL english text. It is proof that ICEL does not merely >translatereinterpret and edit< it.

  49. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Correction: That should read \”John Paul II\” quoted the Exultet twice.

  50. Anthony says:

    It is always a joy when one of our retired priests (who was and still is quite proficient in chant, and helps me quite often in teaching chant to the choirs) chants the exsultet each year. Next year, he may pass on the reins to one of our parish deacons (but not without some solid instruction, I’m sure of that!).

  51. F C Bauerschmidt says:

    Those lines pack quite a theological punch, and I’m not entirely comfortable with the theology contained therein. Any enlightenment would be appreciated.

    They are intellectually discomforting lines, since they seem to imply a quasi-Hegelian “necessity” of the fall, but they as spiritually comforting because they affirm how nothing falls outside of God’s providence. It’s the same point Paul made when he said that where sin abounded grace abounded more or that Julian or Norwich made when she said that sin was “behoovely” (more or less the Middle English equivalent of conveniens).

  52. RBrown says:

    O truly needful sin of Adam,
    that was blotted out by the death of Christ!
    O happy fault,
    that merited to have such and so great a Redeemer!

    Those lines pack quite a theological punch, and I’m not entirely comfortable with the theology contained therein. Any enlightenment would be appreciated.
    Comment by Greg

    Excellent question, which obviously relates to the Incarnation.

    There are three positions on this:

    1. The Incarnation would have happened regardless of whether man had fallen into sin. cf. John Duns Scotus.

    2. The Incarnation, Passion, and Death were necessary to redeem man. Generally, this is St Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory.

    3. We don’t know whether the Incarnation would have happened if men had not fallen into sin,

    AND:

    The Incarnation was not necessary because God could have chosen another way to redeem man.

    We do know, however, that the Incarnation happened because man had fallen into sin. This is the position of St Thomas.

    Hope this helps.

  53. Precentrix says:

    Except St Thomas would say that it was, however, necessary in the sense of being the most fitting and most in accordance with God’s ummm Godness… and that while He could have chosen something else, He wouldn’t have, because it would not be in accordance with His nature (this, of course, not limiting in any way the freedom of the divine will).

    Or something like that. Tommy tends to be more succinct.

    I think the Exultet is in contradiction with (1), though.

  54. geoff jones says:

    I sang it at my parish this year in english. i was given the choice between some crappy modern setting and the traditional setting so i chose the traditional one and knocked everyone off their feet!