The Exsultet (spelled in pre-1920 editions of the Roman Missal as Exultet) or Easter Proclamation, in Latin Praeconium Paschale, is the hymn of praise sung, ideally by a deacon, before the paschal candle during the Easter Vigil in the Roman Rite of Mass. In the absence of a deacon it may be sung by a priest or by a cantor. It is sung after a procession with the paschal candle before the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word. It is also used in Anglican and various Lutheran churches, as well as other Western Christian denominations.
Since the 1955 revision of the Holy Week rites, the Roman Missal explicitly gives the title "Praeconium" to the Exsultet, as it already did implicitly in the formula it provided for blessing the deacon before the chant: "ut digne et competenter annunties suum Paschale praeconium". Outside Rome, use of the paschal candle appears to have been a very ancient tradition in Italy, Gaul, Spain and, perhaps, from the reference by St. Augustine (De Civ. Dei, XV, xxii), in Africa. The Liber Pontificalis attributes to Pope Zosimus its introduction in the local church in Rome. The formula used for the Praeconium was not always the Exsultet, though it is perhaps true to say that this formula has survived, where other contemporary formulae have disappeared. In the Liber Ordinum, for instance, the formula is of the nature of a benediction, and the Gelasian Sacramentary has the prayer Deus mundi conditor, not found elsewhere, but containing the remarkable "praise of the bee"-- possibly a Vergilian reminiscence—which is found with more or less modification in all the texts of the "Praeconium" down to the present. The regularity of the metrical cursus of the Exsultet would lead us to place the date of its composition perhaps as early as the fifth century, and not later than the seventh. The earliest manuscript in which it appears are those of the three Gallican Sacramentaries: -- the Bobbio Missal (seventh century), the Missale Gothicum and the Missale Gallicanum Vetus (both of the eighth century). The earliest manuscript of the Gregorian Sacramentary (Vat. Reg. 337) does not contain the Exsultet, but it was added in the supplement to what has been loosely called the Sacramentary of Adrian, and probably drawn up under the direction of Alcuin.
As it stands in the liturgy, it may be compared with two other forms, the blessing of palms on Palm Sunday, and the blessing of the baptismal font at the Easter Vigil. The order is, briefly:
- An invitation to those present to join with the deacon in invoking the blessing of God, that the praises of the candle may be worthily celebrated. This invitation, wanting in the two blessings just mentioned, may be likened to an amplified "Orate fratres", and its antiquity is attested by its presence in the Ambrosian form, which otherwise differs from the Roman. This section closes with the "Per omnia saecula saeculorum", leading into . . .
- "Dominus vobiscum" etc., "Sursum corda etc., "Gratias agamus" etc. This section serves as the introduction to the body of the Praeconium, cast in the Eucharistic form to emphasize its solemnity.
- The Praeconium proper, which is of the nature of a Preface, or, as it is called in the Missale Gallicanum Vetus, a contestatio. First, a parallel is drawn between the Passover of the Old and the New Covenants, the candle corresponding to the Pillar of Fire. Here the language of the liturgy rises to heights to which it is hard to find a parallel in Christian literature. Through the outlines of ancient dogmas as through a portal we are drawn 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. Secondly, the candle itself is offered as a burnt-sacrifice, a type of Christ, marked by grains of incense as with the five glorious wounds of his Passion.
In pre-1970 forms of the Roman Rite the deacon, or if there is no deacon the priest himself, puts off his violet vestments and wears a white or gold dalmatic for the entry into the church with the paschal candle and the singing or recitation of the Exsultet, resuming the violet vestments immediately afterwards. In the later form, white vestments are worn throughout. The affixing, in the pre-1955 form of the Roman Rite, of five grains of incense at the words incensi hujus sacrificium probably arose from a misconception of the meaning of the text, and was removed in Pope Pius XII's revision.
The chant is usually an elaborate form of the well-known recitative of the Preface. In some uses a long bravura was introduced upon the word accendit, to fill in the pause, which must otherwise occur while, in the pre-1955 form of the rite, the deacon is lighting the candle. In Italy the Praeconium was sung from long strips of parchment, gradually unrolled as the deacon proceeded. These "Exsultet Rolls" were decorated with illuminations and with the portraits of contemporary reigning sovereigns, whose names were mentioned in the course of the "Praeconium". The use of these rolls, as far as is known at present, was confined to Italy. The best examples date from the tenth and eleventh centuries.
Roman Catholic English and Latin text
Prayer for the Emperor
Until 1955, the Exsultet ended with a long prayer for the (Holy Roman) Emperor:
- Respice etiam ad devotissimum imperatorem nostrum [Nomen] cujus tu, Deus, desiderii vota praenoscens, ineffabili pietatis et misericordiae tuae munere, tranquillum perpetuae pacis accommoda, et coelestem victoriam cum omni populo suo.
- Look also upon our most devout Emperor [Name], the desires of whose longing you, O God, know beforehand, and by the inexpressible grace of your kindness and mercy grant him the tranquillity of lasting peace and heavenly victory with all his people.
The head of the Holy Roman Empire alone could be prayed for with this formula, and the resignation in 1806 of the prerogatives of that position by Emperor Francis II of Austria, left that position unfilled thereafter, so that the prayer was in practice not used.
And so, after 1804, the prayer actually ended with the immediately preceding petition for the members of the Church:
- 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 assidua protectione regere, gubernare, et conservare digneris.
However, by the decree Imperii Galliarum of 10 September 1857, Pope Pius IX allowed Emperor Napoleon III of France to be prayed for in the Exsultet from 1858 to 1870, not with the formula reserved for the Holy Roman Emperor, but only by adding "necnon gloriosissimo Imperatore nostro N." to the preceding petition, which became:
- Precamur ergo te, Domine: ut nos famulos tuos, omnemque clerum, et devotissimum populum: una cum beatissimo Papa nostro N. et Antistite nostro N. necnon gloriosissimo Imperatore nostro N. quiete temporum assidua protectione regere, gubernare, et conservare digneris.
In 1955 Pope Pius XII added a phrase to the prayer for the members of the Church and definitively removed the prayer for the Holy Roman Emperor, replacing it with a generic prayer for the civil authorities inspired by the prayer for the Emperor:
- 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. Respice etiam ad eos, qui nos in potestate regunt, et, ineffabili pietatis et misericordiae tuae munere, dirige cogitationes eorum ad iustitiam et pacem, ut de terrena operositate ad caelestem patriam perveniant cum omni populo tuo.
This was removed in the 1970 revision, but remains in use in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, ending with the formula:
- Per eundem Dominum Nostrum Iesum Cristum filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.
[After the candle bearer places the paschal candle in its stand, the cantor, deacon, or assisting minister turns to face the people and chants the Exsultet.]
- Rejoice now, all you heavenly choirs of angels;
- Rejoice now, all creation;
- Sound forth, trumpet of salvation,
- And proclaim the triumph of our King.
- Rejoice too, all the earth,
- In the radiance of the light now poured upon you
- And made brilliant by the brightness of the everlasting King;
- Know that the ancient darkness has been forever banished.
- Rejoice, O Church of Christ,
- Clothed in the brightness of this light;
- Let all this house of God ring out with rejoicing,
- With the praises of all God's faithful people.
[The following exchange between the presiding pastor and the congregation takes place.]
- The Lord be with you.
- And with your spirit.
- Lift up your hearts.
- We lift them up to the Lord.
- Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God.
- It is right and just.
[The presiding pastor then chants or speaks the conclusion of the Exsultet.]
- It is truly good, right, and salutary
- That we should at all times and in all places,
- With all our heart and mind and voice,
- Praise You, O Lord, Holy Father, almighty everlasting God,
- And your only begotten Son,
- Jesus Christ.
- For He is the very Paschal Lamb
- Who offered Himself for the sin of the world,
- Who has cleansed us by the shedding of His precious blood.
- This is the night
- When You brought our fathers, the children of Israel,
- Out of bondage in Egypt
- And led them through the Red Sea on dry ground.
- This is the night
- When all who believe in Christ
- Are delivered from bondage to sin
- And are restored to life and immortality.
- This is the night
- When Christ, the Life, rose from the dead.
- The seal of the grave is broken
- And the morning of a new creation breaks forth out of night.
- How wonderful and beyond all telling is Your mercy toward us, O God,
- That to redeem a slave You gave Your Son.
- How holy is this night
- When all wickedness is put to flight
- And sin is washed away.
- How holy is this night
- When innocence is restored to the fallen
- And joy is given to those downcast.
- How blessed is this night
- When man is reconciled to God in Christ.
- Holy Father,
- Accept now the evening sacrifices of our thanksgiving and praise.
- Let Christ, the true light and morning star, shine in our hearts,
- He who gives light to all creation,
- Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
- One God, now and forever.
The version authorized by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and published in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) retains the wording about the candle and the bees:
- Therefore in this night of grace,
- receive, O God, our praise and thanksgiving
- for the light of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ,
- reflected in the burning of this candle.
- We sing the glories of this pillar of fire,
- the brightness of which is not diminished
- even when its light is divided and borrowed.
- for it is fed by the melting wax which the bees, your servants,
- have made for the substance of this candle.
- Catholic Culture
- Kelly, T. F. The Exultet in Southern Italy. New York, Oxford University Press, 1996
- The Exultant Praise of the Easter Proclamation
- Paschal Proclamation (Exsultet). Third Edition of the Roman Missal
- The Blessing of the Fire and the Preparation of the Candle
- Evangelical Lutheran Worship Leaders Desk Edition.(Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006) page 647