QUAERITUR: Female and male duet for the Exultet

From a reader:

Several years ago, our new husband & wife (talented but very Haugen/Haas loyal) music directors introduced/replaced the familiar English version of the Exultet at the Vigil with a modern(Haugen?) version sung as a duet by male (Deacon) & female (Mrs music director) voices. I am told that this is now also (performed) at all regular Easter Masses by male non-deacon & female voices. Is any of this stipulated pro or con?

PS. Would it be improper to listen to a more traditional version (say,
yours) with earphones & an iPod while this is going on? It’s still quite dark in the Church at this point.

That version of the Exultet sounds dreadful.  I believe there is some provision for an lay person to sing the Exultet, but my being recoils at the idea of a woman doing it.  That’s just wrong.  A female substituting for a deacon, or sharing in the singing of the text which means substituting for deacon.  No.  The rubric concerning what goes on with the Paschal candle explains that when it is not a deacon it is another minister, alius minister idoneus, which is masculine.  Also, concerning the lines to be omitted from the Exultet when sung by a non-deacon we find ab alio qui , which is masculine.   People might try to performed a philological fan dance in support of the obviously male language really including females.  I would respond “Piffle.  It is obviously foreign to the Roman mind to have a woman do any part of the deacon’s greatest liturgical moment of the whole year in the most sacred of our Holy Church’s liturgies.

As far as a duet is concerned… I don’t think that is permitted. Even if it were two deacons, it should not be done.

And, I don’t think it is proper to listen to anything else during the sacred action of liturgical worship, even though what is happening is … sub-optimal.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    I went to a conservatory for a B.Mus. degree… and I have been singing/playing organ in Catholic Churches since age 16. When I was 17 years old, the Pastor asked me to sing the Exsultet. He couldn’t carry a tune and had no deacon but wanted the Exsultet nonetheless. None of the male choir members were able to pull it off a capella. As you can tell from my screen name, I am female. While it was an incredible experience to sing that chant (2 years running), I regret that I did it now. At a second church one year, the same thing happened. I had figured that it was OK for me to do it, since the Priests asked me to do it.

  2. benedetta says:

    Notice the subtext in this, Fr. Roy, the Holy Giant Puppet Heads, the whole obsession with and frenetic push to “place” (in such superficial ways) women to give a certain “appearance” that the dogma according to 60’s feminism based on the fundamentalism of The Pill and Abortion violently and in a sort of extortionist way, demands: that the vocation of lay women to pray for the entire Church as active (albeit not so visible) participation is, equated to dirt. There lies the self-loathing and the sort of spiritual suicide that the entire movement has become…

    Lately I have been thinking of that weird cult of some years ago, the heaven’s gate. Who also worshipped “Earth” and regarded it as a being? And also tried to pretend and assemble all outward appearances to image that there were no inherent differences between men and women to an absurdity. Who felt that they were receiving privileged messages from the divine that were not available to others. Yes, they wound up dead. But it seems to me a bit of a spiritual despair and unhealthy, instead of accepting the call to serve, to chase after, protesting the soa (yet when Obama is elected apparently that’s no longer a good use of time), neglecting the plight of the unborn in our midst while obsessing on isolated instances that one considers ‘sexist’ to the exclusion of so many other instances of sexism embedded in the secularist, consumerist liberal dogma.

  3. benedictgal says:

    This is the version we have been using in my parish for a few years (until this year):


    What are truly areas of concern are the fact that this version, published by OCP, takes excessive liberties with the text and it also features disjointed music, complete with bongo drums. Perhaps this is the version that the person asking the question heard.

    The only legitimate options for the Exultet are found in the Roman Missal: Long form or short form. There is no provision for “these or similar words.”

    I called OCP about this ilicit version. I was given the run-around. In my frustration, I called the Archdiocese of Portland and spoke to the nun who runs their liturgy office. She agreed that this was not licit. However, I do not know why the Archdiocese seems to not exercise any meaningful control over the publishing house. The CDWDS needs to examine this matter.

  4. catholicmidwest says:

    Male & female duet? It’s not esthetic for me. It can’t be. Most weekends almost all Catholic churches sound like catfights in progress, and unfortunately, this generally includes Easter & Christmas. I turn off my ears to music when I walk into Catholic churches as a matter of self-preservation. Even the Sistine Choir sounds like a dog pound in a thunderstorm. Go figure.

    The problem with it for me is the political weaseling that it is. Anything, anything to get a woman onto the altar. It’s stupid, it’s juvenile, it’s pointless. It’s not religious, it’s political. Like we don’t have enough of that crap already.

  5. catholicmidwest says:

    Don’t Catholics know what the words “audition” and “rehearsal” mean? Can they not read music or what?

    Yooooohooooo dwell in the …… uh, that’s when my crap filter goes off, so I don’t know what comes next. Grrrr.

  6. catholicmidwest says:

    Here’s the deal, Catholics have to admit that what they’re doing now is service music, tone down the theatrics, choose APPROPRIATE music, put it into a key so most people can hum along, turn down the lights and the drama, and settle for that.

    The alternative, which I don’t think most parishes are prepared to do, is to train and maintain choirs who can carry a tune and put some elbow grease into it (ie. practice, practice, practice)

    I don’t have a problem with a layperson doing the Exsultet, BTW, although it ought to be a male with a good tenor or baritone voice and he’d ought to be prepared for it. Otherwise, just read the text and spare us. Please.

  7. benedictgal says:

    Perhaps I am missing something here. But, for me, the issue goes beyond having a woman singing. It goes more along the lines of being faithful to the text and having a musical setting that is fit for such a noble prayer. I can see the area of concern that Fr. Z raises regarding just who can chant the prayer. Furthermore, the rubric does not provide for a duet in the manner experience by the person raising the question and in the OCP setting. In our case, it was the pastor and the cantor chanting it together.

    I have had to endure this particular setting for several years until finally someone said enough is enough and managed to research the point and present a good case against the use of this setting.

  8. benedictgal says:

    By the way, the Exultet in question was not written by Marty Haugen and David Haas (at least the one that I have endured). It was from one of the St. Louis Jesuits, Fr. Roc O’Connor. Long before Haugen and Haas tortured us, there were the infamous St. Louis Jesuits.

  9. catholicmidwest says:

    I guess then that I don’t get the point because I fail to see why everything has to be a struggle like this. If nobody can behave, then why can’t we just read the text at the Vigil and enjoy Easter? Easter, after all, is what this is all about (!!!!) Why pander to the juvenile delinquents among us? Doesn’t all this infernal political arguing just help drive the “race to the bottom” that we’ve endured for decades?

  10. Random Friar says:

    The Exsultet is a beautiful tradition for the deacons to sing. Few deacons I’ve known can sing well (apparently the Russian Orthodox Church has taken them all!), so I enjoy and am humbled to sing the Exsultet.

    In the OF, if a non-ordained sings the Exsultet, the following verse is removed:

    [My dearest friends, standing with me in this holy light,
    join me in asking God for mercy
    that He may give His unworthy minister
    grace to sing His Easter praises.

    V. The Lord be with you.
    R. And also with you.]

    Although he or she would continue with:
    V. Lift up your hearts.
    R. We lift them up to the Lord.
    V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
    R. It is right to give Him thanks and praise.

    It is truly right… etc.

  11. wmeyer says:

    “sub-optimal” But Father, But Father, you must have been practicing again your skills at understatement!

    I was privileged last weekend to hear a Latin choir before Mass. Sadly, the music during the liturgy was the usual OCP crap.

  12. Random Friar says:

    Dagnabit, I forgot to close the italics. Sorry!.

  13. benedetta says:

    Haugen himself gives voice to anti-Catholic sentiment whilst profiting and gaining status from his compositions. Is it sort of lace curtain all over again, to be told we must, first and foremost, celebrate works informed by this way of thinking which is not friendly towards Catholicism, and when there is not exactly a groundswell of support in the pews (“Can’t wait to go to Mass on Sunday to gather and go forth and sing more Haugen”). We think ourselves so evolved and enlightened but meanwhile we are distracted and preoccupied. I wonder, why is the very idea of authentic communal prayer amongst Catholics regarded as such a threat? It’s like, whatever we do, we must stop those Catholics from, their large families, and, their prayer. And so many leaders within the Church just embrace all this nonsense, they shuffle and scrape with embarrassment…Sorry, I just don’t buy it.

  14. mpolo says:

    Actually it would be traditional to have no accompaniment at all during the Exultet, because the organ and bells are silenced after the Gloria on Holy Thursday, and only re-used at the Gloria on the Easter Vigil, which is after the Exultet.

    It’s a weakness of a lot of modern psalm settings intended for the Easter Vigil as well — they are all sung before the instruments “come back”, and yet the arrangements want a variety of instruments.

  15. benedictgal says:

    The greater concern for me is that the parishes use what is in the Roman Missal. This is not a case where “these or similar words” applies. I realize that the person raising the question was more concerned about the “who” than the “what”.

    Pascahlis Sollemnitatis does not seem to make a distinction as to who the cantor is:

    84. The deacon makes the Easter proclamation, which tells by means of a great poetic text the whole Easter mystery, placed in the context of the economy of salvation. In case of necessity, where there is no deacon and the celebrating priest is unable to sing it, a cantor may do so. The bishops’ conferences, may adapt this proclamation by inserting into it acclamations from the people. [89]

    This, of course, is the English version of the document. Now, the dreaded OCP version has acclamations (per footnote 89); however, the whole text bears little resemblance to the official one found in the Roman Missal. Fr. Rory took that little provision to the extreme, as I see it.

  16. benedictgal says:


    I don’t know if Haugen took it upon himself to work the Exultet. The only one that has a duet, as far as I can tell, is the version by Fr. Rory that OCP still sells.

  17. Supertradmum says:

    Female? No. However, for over forty years off and on, I have heard laymen sing the traditional Exsultet in parishs where there was only one priest and no deacons. Some priests are humble enough to admit they cannot sing and ask a male member of the choir to do so. In rural areas, there are few deacons, if any, and even in some urban parishes, the deacons do not sing.

  18. catholicmidwest says:

    I agree, Supertradmom. There is never a good reason to butcher the Exsultet. People should not have to subject their faith to that kind of carnage, as a matter of course. It’s just plain destructive.

  19. FrCharles says:

    I have been subjected to the duet ‘version’ in question for the last two years. It’s not so dreadful musically–as stuff in that style goes–but to me it’s just, well, corny.

    Singing the real thing myself when I was a deacon was one of the happiest moments of my life. I remember thinking afterward, “That’s all I ever wanted, Lord. Thank You. Now I can die happy.” Perhaps that corny too, but it’s still how I feel a few years after that night.

  20. irishgirl says:

    I was at an Easter Vigil Mass many years ago (mid-1970s) where there was no singer for the Exsultet. The priest who did the Mass (one of these ‘social justice types’) just read it. I don’t think he had much of a singing voice, so he didn’t chance it and make a fool of himself.

  21. benedictgal says:

    Was it the version written by Fr. Roc?

  22. HyacinthClare says:

    I had decided that everybody who was ordained by the FSSP had to be a REALLY good singer, because for three or four years, we were blessed with deacons in the spring at our church who were “practicing” on us before they were ordained priest in May, and for several years, they ALL had trained, experienced, FINE male voices. Our blessed and beloved present priest and associate have broken the chain, but we had Exultets to DIE for for three or four Easters.

  23. Caro_c says:

    ” I believe there is some provision for an lay person to sing the Exultet, but my being recoils at the idea of a woman doing it. “

    I think that if your “being recoils at the idea of a woman doing it”, when there is a provision for a lay person to sing the Exultet, you should take “your being” outside and put it in order!

  24. C. says:

    Sorry, but whenever I think about duets and the Novus Ordo, the following comes to mind:


    One might think of it as a hymn about the “8th Sacrament”.

  25. Joe in Canada says:

    I find it unfortunate that so many priests and deacons feel that they cannot sing well, and therefore have to let others sing in their place. The word ‘sing’ is ambiguous, and too often today interpreted in a secular way. What priests and deacons are called to do at certain points in the Liturgy is to chant. Chanting is not singing, and most people can do it. And, as someone said above with a slightly different intent, practice.

  26. Brad says:

    Caro C, hi.

    I am interested in your opinion of Father Z’s quote:
    “when it is not a deacon it is another minister, alius minister idoneus, which is masculine. Also, concerning the lines to be omitted from the Exultet when sung by a non-deacon we find ab alio qui , which is masculine”

    In your comment you refer to “layperson”, your word choice (am I right in thinking so?), which is purposefully neuter.

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