Here is the latest from our Director of Worship, Dr. Paul Ciotti:
March 15, 2021- The Exsultet
What is the Exsultet?
The Proclamation of Easter
Written by Daniel Smith of the Blue Hills Catholic Collaborative
Part 1: Let them Exult
The tradition of the Easter Candle goes back to the roots of Christianity. The Jewish custom of lighting a lamp at the end of the Sabbath carried over into an early form of what we call the Easter Vigil’s “Service of Light,” originally part of the Sunday liturgy. As an annual solemn celebration of the Resurrection became more widespread, the Service of Light associated with that celebration was treated with special solemnity. As early as the 4th century we find references to the custom of singing a hymn in praise and thanksgiving for the special candle used for this Service – a hymn which evolved to become the Easter Proclamation we call the “Exsultet,” after its first word in Latin.
Part 2: This Is the Night
The Easter Vigil, or Vigil in the Holy Night, is a “night-watch” waiting for the Resurrection. As we wait we reflect on our salvation history, particularly through the multiple readings. But in a special way the Exsultet with its poetry draws our attention to this history and the Easter symbols associated with it: the Passover memorial and feast, made perfect by the sacrifice of the “one true Lamb;” the crossing of the Red Sea into freedom, recalled by the Baptismal liturgy and our renewal of promises; the pillar of fire defending the Israelites in the darkness, symbolized by the great candle; and of course, the moment of the Resurrection itself, that makes it a “truly blessed night.”
Part 3 – An Evening Sacrifice of Praise
The ancient Easter Vigil lasted throughout the night, ending with a Mass at dawn. As the centuries passed it kept moving earlier in the day; by the High Middle Ages it was celebrated Holy Saturday morning. Holding the Vigil in broad daylight so early separated it from Easter Day – and made certain parts of the Exsultet, asking God to “dispel the darkness of this night,” awkward to say the least. In the 1950s, Pope Pius XII made a reform of the Easter Vigil, restructuring it to reflect original custom and with an eye toward increased participation. As part of that reform, he required it to begin after sunset with all church lights extinguished, so that the Service of Light begins in darkness.
Part 4 – By Sharing of Its Light
Light is one of the best symbols of the mystery of God, how He exists in relationship both with Himself as a Trinity and with us as the Mystical Body. The Nicene Creed we proclaim at Sunday Mass hails Jesus as “God from God, light from light” to show that the Son is distinct from but consubstantial with the Father, just as one fire can light another that is separate but alike. Likewise, the Exsultet calls the Easter Candle “a fire into many flames divided.” We all hold candles lit from the one Easter Candle, which loses nothing “by sharing of its light;” just so, we are all the Body of Christ united to our Head, Who through us is the Light of the world.
Part 5 – Drawn Out by Mother Bees
The Easter Candle is properly made, of course, from beeswax – a point that is brought up at least twice in the Exsultet. The candle itself is described as “the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,” and the flame of the candle is said to be “fed by melting wax drawn out by mother bees.” Bees are social creatures, skillful workers, always active – they are meant to be a model for us Christians to build up the Church as they built up this great candle we offer to God. Like the bees, each of us has a job to do, each of us has a part to contribute to this great work.
Part 6 – The One Morning Star Who Never Sets
In its conclusion, the Exsultet prays that the Easter Candle may “mingle with the lights of heaven” and “be found still burning by the Morning Star.” While ancient peoples used this term to refer to Venus when it appeared on the horizon before dawn, “Morning Star” – in Latin, lucifer – has two different meanings in Christianity. It is one of the titles of Jesus in Revelation 22, but is also a title of the fallen Babylon (and later, Satan) in Isaiah 14. By going on to call it the Morning Star “Who never sets” (or even more literally from the Latin, “Who knows not how to fall”), the Exsultet firmly identifies Christ, defeater of death and the devil, as the Bringer of morning light – the One Whose rising ends our night-watch.
February 17, 2021 – Ash Wednesday
The Lenten Decorations 2021 for our Parish’s worship spaces included spilled and broken terra-cotta pots. These spilled and broken terra-cotta pots remind us of the emptiness and brokenness of this season. We look forward to Easter, the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus who broke the chains of death and has renewed the face of the Earth.