Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Exultet and "Lucifer"

Chanting the Exultet at Blackfriars, Oxford

One of the most spectacular rites of the Easter Vigil is the singing, traditionally by the deacon, of one very long prose called the Exultet before the Paschal Candle. While you read this entry, I invite you to listen to it below as it was sung at the "Anglican Use" parish church of Our Lady of the Atonement, where I attended the Vigil of Easter last Saturday night. The church uses a beautiful translation into hieratic English, which you may follow along with in a new tab here.
The Exultet is sung between the 3:45 and 15:50 marks

There are so many beautiful expressions of hope and rejoicing: consider the felix culpa, the "happy fault" of Adam's sin, that brought mankind to a greater good through Christ, the "blessed iniquity, for whose redemption such a price was paid by such a Saviour". And let's not forget the bees! The Exultet "waxes" poetic on the Paschal candle as the fruit of bees' labor; a creature that the medievals believed reproduced asexually and, therefore, were virgins. "For wax that melteth doth but feed the flame, for thereunto have God's creatures the bees brought it forth, that it should give light in darkness." The version we have in the Roman Rite today is much abbreviated from older versions, such as the one found on the Exultet scroll of Salerno, whose praise of the bees ends with:
"O truly blessed and wondrous bee, whose sex the males do not dishonor, the bearing of offspring does not violate them, nor do (the bearing of) children destroy their chastity. Just as the holy virgin Mary conceived and bore a child and yet remained a virgin."
I've long decided that if I were to be ordained a deacon some day in the future, I'd earnestly hope I would find some church that would allow me to sing it in the full, traditional tone every year.

Unfortunately, as a friend pointed out to me a few months ago the truth of Ecclesiastes 1:15; that is, "The perverse are hard to be corrected, and the number of fools is infinite". About half of all discussions on the Internet about the traditional Latin Exultet are conspiracy theories about the Catholic Church worshipping Satan. If you have the stomach for it, proceed to videos such as this expose of a recent Easter Vigil Mass at Saint Peter's Basilica. Or webpages such as this. (I hope you have your antacid pills at the ready.)

In the Latin version of the text, as it appears in the reformed Missal and which is sung by the deacon at Saint Peter's in those videos circulated by the conspiracy theorist hacks, it goes:
"Flammas eius lúcifer matutínus invéniat: ille, inquam, lúcifer, qui nescit occásum. Christus Fílius tuus, qui, regréssus ab ínferis, humáno géneri serénus illúxit, et vivit et regnat in sæcula sæculórum."

As you may know, the word Lucifer literally means "lightbearer" (lux for light, ferre for "to bear" or "to carry"). The ancients typically associated this word with Venus, the Morning-star.... and it also happens to be a name traditionally assigned to the adversary, Satan. Here's the official translation of the Latin phrase I posted above:
"May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star: the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who, coming back from death's domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen."

To anyone with a modicum of common sense, not to menton those who have actually attended the ceremony and followed along with the text, the deacon is clearly singing about Jesus Christ. The conspiracy theorists are quick to accuse the hymn of enthroning Satan as messiah in place of Jesus, as Catholics have always apparently been wont to do since Saint Peter's day. Strangely, these accusers, who are probably all Protestants claiming to be speaking the Biblical truth, are unaware that Scripture itself calls Jesus the morning star:
"I, Jesus, have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star." (Revelation 22:16, King James Version)

The traditional text of the Exultet is a little subtler, but the message is the same. Christ is the light in the darkness, who brings us out of the gloom of the Crucifixion into the everlasting day of the Resurrection.

For those who want to see the full Latin text, this page has both the 1962 version and the revised ending for the current rite (the "1975") with a slightly different translation than the one I first linked you to side-by-side.

The Exultet sung at Our Lady of the Atonement, San Antonio, 2015

I end today's entry with another treasure: a translation of the Exultet used in Sarum. The rubric has the deacon sing it facing north at a point in between the quire and the altar. As far as I can tell, the text is the same as in the classical Roman Rite, with one little exception: along with the pope and the local bishop, it also prays for the king by name. (The king was also prayed for by name in the Canon of the Sarum Mass.) The tradition of praying for the ruler in the Exultet was maintained all the way up until 1870 in France, at the end of Emperor Napoleon III's rule. The Missal of Trent also had the curious effect of imposing a prayer at the end for the Holy Roman Emperor across the entire Roman Catholic world, regardless of nationality. That prayer was finally removed with the 1955 Holy Week revisions. 

Now let the angelic host of heaven exult, let the divine mysteries be celebrated with exultation, and let the trumpet of salvation sound for the victory of so great a King. 
Let the earth rejoice, irradiated with so great brilliancy, and illuminated by the splendour of the eternal King, let it perceive the darkness of the universe to have been done away. 
Let mother church also be joyful, adorned with the brilliancy of so great a light, and let this court resound with the mighty voices of peoples. 
Wherefore, most dearly beloved brethren, as ye stand before the so wonderful brilliance of this holy light, I beseech you invoke along with me the tender mercy of almighty God; 
That he who hath deigned to enrol me, not for mine own merits, within the number of the Levites, pouring forth upon me the grace of his light, may cause me to declare fully the praise of this taper. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ his Son, who with him liveth and reigneth God in the unity of the Holy Ghost. World without end. 
R. Amen.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.
V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up unto the Lord.
V. Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.
R. It is meet and right so to do. 
Because it is very meet and right to proclaim with full desire of heart and mind, and through the instrumentality of the voice, the invisible God almighty, the Father, and his only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Ghost.  
Who paid for us the debt of Adam to the eternal Father, and blotted out the bond of the old sin by his holy blood. 
For this is the Paschal feast, in which that true Lamb is slain, and the door-posts are consecrated by his blood. 
This is the night in which thou first madest our fathers, the children of Israel, whom thou leddest up out of Egypt, to pass through the Red Sea dry-shod. 
This, therefore, is the night in which he cleared away the shades of sin by the pillar of light. 
This is the night which, as at this day, sets apart from the vices of this world and from the darkness of sin, and restores to grace, and unites in sanctity the believers in Christ throughout the whole world. 
This is the night in which Christ burst the bonds of death, and rose a conqueror from the grave. 
For it had advantaged us nothing to be born except we had the advantage of redemption. 
O marvellous condescension of thy loving-kindness concerning us! 
O inestimable tenderness of love! thou gavest up thy Son to redeem thy servant. 
O truly necessary sin of Adam and of ourselves, which was blotted out by the death of Christ!  
O happy guilt, the desert of which was to gain such and so great a Redeemer! 
O truly blessed night, to the desert of which alone was granted to know the time and the hour in which Christ rose from the grave!  
This is the night of which it was written, And the night is as clear as the day, and, Then shall my night be turned to day. 
Therefore, the hallowing of this night putteth wickedness to flight, washeth away sins, and restoreth innocency to the fallen, and joy to the sorrowful ; it banisheth hatred, and prepareth peace, and maketh sovereignties to yield. 
Therefore, in favour of this night, receive, O holy Father, 
Here the deacon shall put incense into the candle or into the candlestick in the form of a cross; and in the same way into the small candle, the bearer thereof approaching with it. 
the evening sacrifice of this incense. 
Which the holy church offereth to thee by the hands of her ministers in this solemn oblation of wax, the work of the bee. 
But now we know the praise of this pillar, which the glowing fire kindleth to the honour of God. 
At this point the candle shall he lit from the new fire, and not be extinguished till after Compline on the day following. And the Paschal candle shall burn continuously throughout Easter week at Matins, and at Mass, and at Vespers; and likewise on the Octave of Easter. But on all Sundays from the Octave of Easter until Ascension Day it shall be lit at Mass only, as well as on the feasts of St. Mark the Evangelist, and of SS. Philip and James the Apostles. On the Annunciation of the Blessed Mary, and on the Invention of the Holy Cross it shall he lighted as on the Octave of Easter. Then shall the candle-bearers light their candles throughout the church.

Which although it be divided into parts of borrowed light, knoweth not loss. It is fed by the liquid wax which the queen bee produced for the composition of this precious taper. 
O blessed night, which spoiled the Egyptians, and enriched the Hebrews! Night in which heavenly things are united to earthly. 
We beseech thee, O Lord, that this candle, consecrated to the honour of thy name, may last unfailing for dispelling the darkness of this night. 
Being accepted for its sweet odour, let it be mingled with the lights above. 
May the Morning Star find it burning. That Morning Star, I say, who knoweth no setting; He who returned from the grave and shone serene upon mankind. 
We, therefore, pray thee, O Lord, that thou wouldest grant unto us thy servants, all the clergy, and the most devout people, together with our father pope N., and our king N., and also our bishop N., that in quietness of time we may keep our paschal joy. 
Who ever livest, reignest, rulest, and also art glorified, God alone, alone the most highest, O Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father.

An Exultet scroll from medieval southern Italy


  1. Great post - you've been on a roll lately. In my opinion, the Easter Vigil service is the most beautiful liturgically of the year.

  2. "The Missal of Trent also had the curious effect of imposing a prayer at the end for the Holy Roman Emperor across the entire Roman Catholic world, regardless of nationality."
    If only that we had those times again!

    Could we not resolve the whole 'Lucifer' "problem" by using 'Horuuendillus' instead?

    A very blessed Easter from the Hapsburg Restorationist, and the whole Hapsburg Restoration Movement!

  3. Flammas eius lúcifer matutínus invéniat: ille, inquam, lúcifer, qui nescit occásum. Christus Fílius tuus, qui, regréssus ab ínferis, humáno géneri serénus illúxit, et vivit et regnat in sæcula sæculórum

    Its flame the morning star he , I say , O Lucifer, who does not know the West. Christ the Son of God, who , returning from hell, serenely shone forth upon the human race , who lives and reigns for ever and ever

  4. http://www.fourwinds10.net/siterun_data/religion_cults/news.php?q=1330014631