ASK FATHER: Must the Exsultet be sung by a cleric?

From a reader


Must the Exultet be sung by a cleric?

Short and simple.

The short answer is: It ought to be.

In the Novus Ordo I believe it is permitted for a non-cleric to sing the Exsultet. I guess that option looks more to the aesthetics of the moment than to the true dignity of the laity and the proper role of the clergy.

In the traditional Roman Rite, the singer must be a deacon or priest. A priest would vest in the dalmatic.

Come to think of it, a bishop could do it.  That would be interesting.

The Exsultet, also spelled Exultet, is the liturgical year’s moment for the deacon, par excellence.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. bohanlon says:

    When I lived in Pittsburgh, it was indeed Bishop Zubik who sang the Exsultet at the Cathedral on Holy Saturday. I remember him doing a good job.

  2. Sonshine135 says:

    The singing of the The Exsultet is by far one of my favorite moments in all of the Easter Vigil, and it sets the stage for the rest of the liturgy. Were I a Deacon, I’d be very honored to do this.

  3. APX says:

    Does it actually have to be sung in the older form if the priest is tone deaf and no other cleric is available?

  4. Gregorius says:

    Considering the passion is often read by non-clerics….

  5. Alice says:

    In the OF, yes, a layperson can chant the Exultet if necessary. The Roman Missal indicates that a layperson must omit certain parts, though, so it should be really be chanted by a cleric, ideally the deacon. Of course, ideally every parish would have a full complement of clergy who have good voices and are willing to use them. Unfortunately such parishes are few and far between, so the Church makes certain allowances.

  6. BLB Oregon says:

    There are unfortunately a few men that even ordination could not make into soloists. Still, the clergy ought to be encouraged to sing and held only to do their best. When the clergy are gifted, it is wonderful, yes! When the clergy are not too perfect in their singing, though, if nothing else the faithful cannot have any excuse not to sing when it is our turn to sing our prayers, too. On that account, the clergy ought to be slow to hand over their parts to anyone else, however gifted the others might be.

  7. James Joseph says:

    I do not think I have ever heard an ‘Exultet’. I found myself Googling it. So far, all I know is it has something to do with the ‘big candle’, which, I might add my boss was telling me that they never change the ‘big candle’ at his parish unless he pushes the issue. I find this interesting in that he after working directly for the bishop in the chancery, for 10 years, casually speaks about how (it seems in total ignorance) Lutherans and Catholics are exactly the same thing in all regards. So, the ‘big candle’ must have significance.

    As a lifelong Catholic I find the holy week stuff totally incongruent and without place and so it makes no sense to me. Then again, everything seems so entirely made-up and without meaning.

    It’s a good thing I love Mary and Jesus and I pray for the Pope everyday, for otherwise they have made vice a far more attractive option than religion.

  8. Tim Ferguson says:

    If our host would permit a slight diversion, this calls to mind a Greek Orthodox priest of my acquaintance who once told me in his Church the practice was: find a smart young man who can carry a tune and ordain him a deacon. When he loses his voice, ordain him a priest. When he loses his mind, ordain him a bishop.

  9. Alice says:

    Tim Ferguson, the Ruthenian priest who used to come to our Newman Center occasionally used to say the same thing. :)

  10. “The singing of the The Exsultet is by far one of my favorite moments in all of the Easter Vigil, and it sets the stage for the rest of the liturgy.” Yes!!

    To James Joseph, who said, “As a lifelong Catholic I find the holy week stuff totally incongruent and without place and so it makes no sense to me. Then again, everything seems so entirely made-up and without meaning.” Oh, the Holy Week liturgies are among the most beautiful you will ever see! If you have an opportunity to participate in Extraordinary Form Holy Week liturgies I would encourage you to go to as many as you can. Perhaps if you look at that thread Father Z posted the other day you will find an EF near you. If you are able to participate and follow along and understand the meaning behind everything, you will perhaps have a newfound appreciation for the Holy Week liturgies!

  11. Glaswegian says:

    Are there any circumstances in which the Exsultet can be read rather than sung?

  12. Marysann says:

    I love the Exsultet, too. One of my fondest memories is of a priest friend of mine, while he was still a deacon, sang the Exultet while processing down the aisle. He was a trained opera singer, and he memorized the whole thing. He had a good voice, and it was very impressive. I, myself, have sung it twice. I prefer it to be sung by a man, but in both cases it was me or nothing. The priests in both cases did not want to sing it. Unfortunately we have lost our singing culture, and today singing seems to be relegated to those who are professional entertainers. People don’t get together and sing for fun anymore. Priests come from our culture and often don’t feel any more comfortable about singing in public than other people. I don’t know what is being taught in seminaries, but if a young man is not comfortable singing in public when he reaches that point, it will be hard for him to change. Music education in the public schools was begun in New England by those who wanted to improve singing in the churches. If we don’t encourage our children to sing, they won’t sing when they are adults.

  13. SimonDodd says:

    I have a related question: May the Exsultet be licitly sung from the obsolete, superseded translation? (I assume that this question stands or falls with the status of the obsolete, superseded Sacramentary more generally—and if so, what is that? What can I cite that will satisfy the parish?)

  14. Jeannie_C says:

    My husband and I attended the Easter Vigil at a larger church last year, not the one we normally go to. The Exultet was sung by a very young woman, high pitched and breathless. To our minds, it didn’t carry the weight it usually does when sung by the Deacon or Priest. I know it’s a long and difficult piece, and she tried her best, but simply didn’t do it justice.

  15. MAJ Tony says:

    @Marysann, perhaps we know the same priest who is a trained opera singer. He wouldn’t happen to be of Polish descent from Philly, and FSSP?

  16. Xmenno says:

    In previous years, a choir member with a wonderful voice would sing the Exsultet at our Cathedral parish, and it was just about my favorite moment of the entire liturgical year. For the past three years, a transitional deacon has sung it (according to rubrics). The singing skill of these deacons has ranged from acceptable to truly painful to listen to. I really want things to be done right, but this is a difficult task and a non-singer must have nightmares of nervousness about it. I don’t know what the correct answer is. Nevertheless, the words of the Exsultet do not lose their grandeur, not matter who sings it.

  17. Marysann says:

    MAJ Tony, I am afraid it is not the same priest. The priest I was talking about is of Polish descent, but he is a priest of the Diocese of Buffalo. I’m glad to hear that there is more than one priest who is a trained singer. When we lived in Moscow, the chaplain for the English speaking community told me that he actually took voice lessons so that he could better sing at Mass. That’s dedication!

  18. Random Friar says:

    @SimonDodd: No. From the foreword to the new GIRM:

    The translation contained here and also in the ritual edition of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, is now the single official translation for the English-speaking world.

  19. tjmurphy says:

    At my church we have the pastor and two priests. Each one is the main celebrant for each of the days of the Triduum. Each one is planning on chanting at least some of the prayers during the liturgy.

    We usually have one or more cantor sing the Exsultet with the part specific to the deacon sung by one of the deacons. Last year one of the singers was the seminarian from our parish.

    I have the honor of being one of the singers for the Exsultet this year.

    I am looking forward to the Triduum as I do every thing I am NOT looking forward to is the fact that the pastor insists on using women for the washing of the feet and starts the Easter Vigil at 7:30pm, makes singing easier since it is still bright outside.

    Hope everyone has a Blessed Holy Week

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