Exsultet – the high point of the year

exsultetWe have travelled through Lent, have Holy Week almost upon us, and now start to face (with some trepidation) the high point of the year for me and for most priests. I believe that it is the culmination of the Church’s year and should be the high point for all Christians – the annual proclamation of the Resurrection in the Exsultet.

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

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.

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 him thanks and praise.

It is truly right that with full hearts and minds and voices
we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father,
and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam’s sin to our eternal Father!

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

This is the night,
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slav’ry,
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night,
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin.

This is night,
when Christians ev’rywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

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

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

Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
“The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy.”

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed,
when heaven is wedded to earth
and we are reconciled to God!

Therefore, heavenly Father, in the joy of this night,
receive our evening sacrifice of praise,
your Church’s solemn offering.

Accept this Easter candle,
a flame divided but undimmed,
a pillar of fire that glows to the honor 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, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Amen.

Other resources you might find useful:

Real Audio of it sung in English

PDF download of the Plainchant from the STE website

Gary D. Penkala writes on the Cantica Nova site:

The Exsultet stands as one of the finest surviving examples of liturgical poetry in the Roman Rite. Charlton Walker writes,

Here the language of the liturgy rises into heights to which it is hard to find a parallel in Christian literature. We are drawn out of the cold dogmatic statement into the warmth of the deepest mysticism, to the region where, in the light of paradise, even the sin of Adam may be regarded as truly necessary and a happy fault.

According to G. Thomas Ryan, writing for Liturgy Training Publications,

Once a year we are privileged to experience this proclamation, one of the most beautiful vestiges of solo repertoire that has survived the nearly 2000-year history of Christian music. It comes from the tradition of the cantor/deacon office of hundreds of years ago.

The Easter Proclamation, as the Exsultet is titled in the Sacramentary (Præconium Paschale, in Latin), is properly sung by the deacon, as he has charge of the Paschal Candle during the preceding rite. Having lit the Paschal Candle from the new fire, the deacon leads the procession into the dark church, reminiscent of the pillar of fire which led the Israelites through the desert. He intones, “Light of Christ,” three times, each time on a slightly higher pitch; the congregation responds to each, “Thanks be to God.” Arriving in the sanctuary, the deacon places the candle in a prominent holder, brings the thurible to the celebrant for preparation, and receives his blessing. The deacon incenses the book or scroll containing the text of the Exsultet and the Paschal Candle in its holder. He then begins the glorious singing of the Easter Proclamation, a song of praise unique and unequaled in liturgical hymnody. If it is not possible for a deacon to chant this hymn, a priest or a layman may do so, although with certain adaptations. The outline below assumes a deacon is singing.

The Exsultet is structured in three sections. The first is a poetic “fanfare” with three exclamations, each beginning with, “Rejoice,” (Exsultet in Latin). Then follows a sort of “Preface,” making up the body of the hymn, wherein the parallels between the Old Testament Passover and the joyful Resurrection of Christ are extolled. The Exsultet ends with a prayer that the Almighty Father accept the offering of the Paschal Candle and the Church’s “evening sacrifice of praise.”

Examining the introduction more closely, we see a tripartite structure. Three groups are exhorted to “Rejoice!”: the angels together with all the heavenly host; the earth and all creatures, and finally the Church, “echoing the mighty song of all God’s people.” The appropriate theme of darkness shattered by the glorious light of the Risen Christ makes its first appearance early in the hymn: “shining splendor…the brightness of your King…glory fills you…darkness vanishes forever…the risen Savior shines upon you…” The music, repeated for each of the three sections, helps delineate the structure.

The Preface proper follows. In the Mass, a preface always precedes the singing of the Sanctus at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer. It enumerates the motives for our thanksgiving, often relating them to the feast being celebrated. Likewise, in this Easter Proclamation, the great events of God are presented, beginning with Old Testament Exodus from Egypt, and continuing through the marvelous salvific acts of Jesus, the new Paschal Lamb. In what might be called an expanded litany, the text proceeds to several statements beginning “This is the night…” (Hæc nox est in Latin). These phrases answer the question, “Why is this night special?,” with obvious parallel to the Jewish Seder meal practice. The answer comes, “sin is destroyed…Christians are washed clean…the chains of death are broken…evil is dispelled…guilt is washed away…innocence is restored…mourners are made joyful…hatred is cast out…peace reigns…earthly pride is humbled.”

In a poetry uncharacteristic of the Roman Rite, the Proclamation has us ponder: “What good would life have been to us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer?” “To ransom a slave, Father, you gave away your Son.” “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!” “Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth and man is reconciled with God!”

The Exsultet concludes with a prayer of offering. “Accept this Easter Candle, a flame divided but undimmed, a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.” The deacon beseeches that the candle flame mingle with the heavenly lights, and that the Morning Star (Christ) find this flame still burning.

The music is powerful, derived from the ancient chants for the Prefaces. The version with Latin text (Exsultet iam angelica turba cælorum…) can be found in Roman Missals dated as late as 1964. It has been adequately adapted to the English text (Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!…) found in the 1985 Roman Sacramentary. The beautiful text painting, the rising fifth on the words Tuba insonet salutaris, is only slightly misplaced in the English, “Sound the trumpet of salvation.”

Practicing the Exsultet has always been a cherished experience for newly-ordained deacons. It remains a text that is truly theirs. It is the deacon, not the celebrant, not the priest, not the bishop, not even the pope, who is given the opportunity to first announce the joyful news of the Lord’s resurrection, as well as its practical ramifications for our new life. This “servant-deacon,” lowest among the ranks of ordained ministers, is exalted in his glorious proclamation that the universe is changed forever — Christ is risen! What a wonderful paradox — “O happy twist!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZ0IOMHKLL0

This table translates the Latin.

The Exsultet, sometimes seen as “Exultet” and also referred to as the Praeconium Paschale, is an ancient chant sung during the Easter Vigil. It is traditionally sung by the deacon after the Paschal candle has been lit and the clergy have processed to the altar. The lighted Paschal candle contains a twofold symbolism. First, it represents the pillar of fire that went before the Israelites during their flight from Egypt. Second, it represents Christ, who is the light of the world. The procession likewise has a twofold meaning. It symbolizes the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt, and also the arrival of Christ who is the Savior of the world. The Exsultet sings of this symbolism and recalls for us the history of our salvation; from the fall of Adam, to the events of that first Passover held by Moses and the Israelites, and then finally the events of that last Passover at which Jesus suffered, died, rose from the dead and by which mankind was redeemed. The tone of the hymn is very much one of joy at having received so great a gift as our redemption and eternal life.

The final verses from both the 1962 Missal and the 1975 Missal are given below.

Exsultet iam angelica turba caelorum exsultent divina mysteria et pro tanti Regis victoria, tuba insonet salutaris. Let now the heavenly hosts of angels rejoice let the living mysteries be joyfully celebrated: and let a sacred trumpet proclaim the victory of so great a King.
Gaudeat et tellus tantis irradiata fulgoribus et, aeterni regis splendore illustrata, totius orbis se sentiat amisisse caliginem. Let the earth also be filled with joy, illuminated with such resplendent rays; and let men know that the darkness which overspread the whole world is chased away by the splendor of our eternal King.
Laetetur et mater Ecclesia tanti luminis adornata fulgoribus: et magnis populorum vocibus haec aula resultet. Let our mother the Church be also glad, finding herself adorned with the rays of so great a light and let this temple resound with the joyful acclamations of the people.
Quapropter adstantes vos, fratres carissimi, ad tam miram huius sancti luminis claritatem, una mecum, quaeso, Dei omnipotentis misericordiam invocate. Wherefore, beloved brethren, you who are now present at the admirable brightness of this holy light, I beseech you to invoke with me the mercy of almighty God.
Ut, qui me non meis meritis intra Levitarum numerum dignatus est aggregare luminis sui claritatem infundens cerei huius laudem implere perficiat. That he, who has admitted me into the number of his Levites not on my own merits, will, by an infusion of his light upon me, enable me to celebrate the praises of this light.
Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium suum, qui cum eo vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Through our Lord Jesus Christ his Son, who with Him and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth one God for ever and ever.
R. Amen. R. Amen.
V. Dominus vobiscum. R. Et cum spiritu tuo. V. The Lord be with you. R. And with thy spirit.
V. Sursum corda. R. Habemus ad Dominum. V. Lift up your hearts. R. We have lifted them up to the Lord.
V. Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro. R. Dignum et iustum est. V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. R. It is fitting and just.
Vere dignum et iustum est, invisibilem Deum Patrem omnipotentem Filiumque eius unigenitum, Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum, toto cordis ac mentis affectu et vocis ministerio personare. It is truly fitting and just to proclaim with all the affection of our heart and soul, and with the sound of our voice the invisible God the Father almighty, and his only Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Qui pro nobis aeterno Patri Adae debitum solvit et veteris piaculi cautionem pio cruore detersit. Who paid for us to his eternal Father the debt of Adam: and by his sacred blood canceled the guilt contracted by original sin.
Haec sunt enim festa Paschalia, in quibus vere ille Agnus occiditur, cuius sanguine postes fidelium consecrantur. For this is the Paschal solemnity, in which the true Lamb was slain, by whose blood the doors of the faithful are consecrated.
Haec nox est, in qua primum patres nostros, filios Israel, eductos de Aegypto, Mare Rubrum sicco vestigio transire fecisti. Haec igitur nox est, quae peccatorum tenebras columnae illuminatione purgavit. This is the night in which thou formerly broughtest forth our forefathers, the children of Israel, out of Egypt, leading them dry-foot through the Red Sea. This then is the night which dissipated the darkness of sin by the light of the pillar.
Haec nox est, quae hodie per universum mundum in Christo credentes a vitiis saeculi, et caligine peccatorum segregatos reddit gratiae, sociat sanctitati. This is the night which now delivers all over the world those that believe in Christ from the vices of the world and darkness of sin, restores them to grace, and clothes them with sanctity.
Haec nox est, in qua, destructis vinculis mortis, Christus ab inferis victor ascendit. This is the night in which Christ broke the chains of death, and ascended conqueror from hell.
Nihil enim nobis nasci profuit, nisi redimi profuisset. For it availed us nothing to be born, unless it had availed us to be redeemed.
O mira circa nos tuae pietatis dignatio! O inaestimabilis dilectio caritatis: ut servum redimeres, Filium tradidisti! O how admirable is thy goodness towards us! O how inestimable is thy love! Thou hast delivered up thy Son to redeem a slave.
O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum est! O truly necessary sin of Adam, which the death of Christ has blotted out!
O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem! O happy fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!
O vere beata nox, quae sola meruit scire tempus et horam, in qua Christus ab inferis resurrexit! O truly blessed night, which alone deserves to know the time and hour when Christ rose again from hell.
Haec nox est, de qua scriptum est: Et nox sicut dies illuminabitur: et nox illuminatio mea in deliciis meis. This is the night of which it is written: And the night shall be as light as the day, and the night is my illumination in my delights.
Huius igitur sanctificatio noctis fugat scelera, culpas lavat: et reddit innocentiam lapsis, et maestis laetitiam. Fugat odia, concordiam parat, et curvat imperia. Therefore the sanctification of this night blots out crimes, washes away sins, and restores innocence to sinners, and joy to the sorrowful. It banishes enmities, produces concord, and humbles empires.
In huius igitur noctis gratia, suscipe, sancte Pater laudis huius sacrificium vespertinum, quod tibi in haec cerei oblatione sollemni, per ministrorum manus de operibus apum, sacrosancta reddit ecclesia. Therefore on this sacred night, receive, O holy Father, the evening sacrifice of this sacrifice, which thy holy Church by the hands of her ministers presents to thee in the solemn offering of this wax candle made out of the labor of bees.
Sed iam columnae huius praeconia novimus, quam in honorem Dei rutilans ignis accendit. Qui, licet sit divisus in partes, mutuati tamen luminis detrimenta non novit. Alitur enim liquantibus ceris, quas in substantiam pretiosae huius lampadis apis mater eduxit. And now we know the excellence of this pillar, which the bright fire lights for the honor of God. Which fire, though now divided, suffers no loss from the communication of its light. Because it is fed by the melted wax, which the mother bee wrought for the substance of this precious lamp.
Ending according to the 1962 Missal: Ending according to the 1962 Missal:
O vere beata nox, quae exspoliavit Aegyptos, ditavit Hebraeos nox, in qua terrenis caelestia, humanis divina iunguntur! O truly blessed night, which plundered the Egyptians, and enriched the Hebrews. A night, in which heaven is united to earth, and God to man.
Oramus ergo te, Domine, ut cereus iste in honorem tui nominis consecratus, ad noctis huius caliginem destruendam, indeficiens perseveret. Et in odorem suavitatis acceptus, supernis luminaribus misceatur. Flammas eius lucifer matutinus inveniat: Ille, inquam, lucifer, qui nescit occasum: Ille qui regressus ab inferis, humano generi serenus illuxit. We beseech thee therefore, O Lord, that this candle, consecrated to the honor of thy name, may continue burning to dissipate the darkness this night. And being accepted as a sweet savor, may be united with the celestial lights. Let the morning star find it alight, that star which never sets. Which being returned from hell, shone with brightness on mankind.
Precamur ergo te, Domine, ut nos famulos tuos, omnemque clerum, et devotissimum populum, una cum beatissimo Papa nostro N. et Antistite nostro N. quiete temporum concessa, in his paschalibus gaudiis, assidua protectione regere, gubernare, et conservare digneris. Per eundem Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. We beseech thee therefore, O Lord, to grant us peaceable times during these Paschal solemnities, and with thy constant protection to rule, govern, and preserve us thy servants, all the clergy, and the devout laity, together with our holy Pope N. and our Bishop N. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ thy Son : who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth one God for ever and ever.
R. Amen. R. Amen.
Ending according to the 1975 Missal: Ending according to the 1975 Missal:
O vere beata nox, in qua terrenis caelestia, humanis divina iunguntur! O truly blessed night, in which heaven is united to earth, and God to man!
Oramus ergo te, Domine, ut cereus iste in honorem tui nominis consecratus, ad noctis huius caliginem destruendam, indeficiens perseveret. Et in odorem suavitatis acceptus, supernis luminaribus misceatur. Flammas eius lucifer matutinus inveniat: Ille, inquam, lucifer, qui nescit occasum: Christus Filius tuus, qui regressus ab inferis, humano generi serenus illuxit, et vivit et regnat in saecula saeculorum. We beseech thee therefore, O Lord, that this candle, consecrated to the honor of thy name, may continue burning to dissipate the darkness this night. And being accepted as a sweet savor, may be united with the celestial lights. Let the morning star find it alight, that star which never sets: Christ Thy Son, who came back from hell, and shone with brightness on mankind, and who liveth and reigneth for ever and ever.
R. Amen. R. Amen.

Latin from the 1962 & 1975 Missal. Tr by Abbot Cabrol, OSB, 1934.

I wouldn’t want to inflict on you a recording of my Exsultet, but may your preparations for this most key part of the year’s liturgy be joyous!

Exsultet iam angelica turba caelorum!