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The Exultet (also known as the Exsultet or sometimes the Easter Proclamation) is the traditional Western Rite hymn of praise intoned by the deacon during the Easter Vigil. In the absence of a deacon, it may be intoned by the priest, or by the cantor. It is intoned after the procession with the Paschal Candle before the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word. It is used in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, the Anglican Churches, and the German, Nordic and Baltic Lutheran Churches, as well as other Western Christian denominations.
In the missal the title of the hymn is "Praeconium", as appears from the formula used at the blessing of the deacon: "ut digne et competenter annunties suum Paschale praeconium". Outside Rome, the 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 its introduction in the local Roman Church to Pope Zosimus. The formula used for the "Praeconium" was not always the "Exultet", 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 day. The regularity of the metrical cursus of the "Exultet" 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 "Exultet", 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.
- An invitation to those present to join with the deacon in the invocation of 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 being here a type of the Pillar of Fire. And here the language of the liturgy rises into 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 now 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. And, lastly, the Praeconium ends with a general intercession for those present, for the clergy, for the pope, and for the Christian rulers. For these last the text as it stands cannot now be used. The head of the Holy Roman Empire alone could be prayed for in this formula, and the resignation (1804) of the prerogatives of that august position, by the Emperor Francis II of Austria, has left that position unfilled to the present day. Bl. Pope Pius IX, however, allowed Emperor Napoleon III of France to be honored in this prayer of the Liturgy from 1858 to 1870, by way of the authorizing decree Imperii Galliarum of 10 September 1857.
It remains to notice three accessories of the "Exultet": the ceremonial carried on during its performance; the music to which it has been sung; and the so called "Exultet-rolls" on which it was sometimes written. In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (based on the 1962 Missal, which uses Latin only), the deacon is vested in a white dalmatic, the rest of the sacred ministers are vested in violet (later, everyone changes to white vestments). In the Ordinary Rite (based on the Missal published in 1970, where local languages are allowed), all sacred ministers are vested in white at the beginning of the liturgy. The affixing of five grains of incense at the words incensi hujus sacrificium has probably arisen from a misconception of the meaning of the text. The lighting of the candle is followed by the lighting of all the lamps and candles of the church, extinguished since the close of Matins. 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 during the lighting of the candle. In Italy the Praeconium was sung from long strips of parchment, gradually unrolled as the deacon proceeded. These "Exultet 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.
Full English and Latin Text
The full authorised English text is given below, together with the Latin original (from the Missale Romanum of 1970) upon which it is based.
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exultet iam angelica turba caelorum:
¹ This sentence follows apis mater eduxit in the Latin. It is shown here to correspond with its placing in the English.
² This sentence has no equivalent in the standard English version.
Prayer for the Emperor
Prior to 1955, this prayer included prayers for the Holy Roman Emperor. This continued to be in the Missal, though in practice omitted, even after the Empire had ceased to exist. It was as follows:
- 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.
- Regard also our most devout Emperor [Name] and since Thou knowest, O God, the desires of his heart, grant by the ineffable grace of Thy goodness and mercy, that he may enjoy with all his people the tranquillity of perpetual peace and heavenly victory.
In allowing Emperor Napoleon III to be prayed for in this portion of the Liturgy, Blessed Pope Pius IX appended his name to a portion of the prayer "O vere beata nox quae exspoiliavit Aegyptos, ditavit Hebraeos!" (see below) which instead read:
- 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.
Besides removing the prayer for the emperor, the changes in 1955 also touched upon the last section where prayers were made for the pope, bishop, clergy, people and temporal rulers. This was removed in the 1970 version altogether (the pre-1955 had included such prayers, but not as much text with them). For comparison:
- (Pre-1955) O vere beata nox, quae exspoiliavit Aegyptos, ditavit Hebraeos! Nox, in qua terrenis caelestia, humanis divina iunguntur. 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, qui regressus ab inferis, humano generi serenus illuxit. 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. Per Christum Filium tuum: Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus: per omnia saecula saeculorum. R. Amen.
- (1962 Missale) O vere beata nox, quae exspoiliavit Aegyptos, ditavit Hebraeos! Nox, in qua terrenis caelestia, humanis divina iunguntur. 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, qui regressus ab inferis, humano generi serenus illuxit. 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. Per Christum Filium tuum: Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus: Per omnia saecula saeculorum. R. Amen.
The current is given above.
- Illuminated Manuscript of an Medieval Exultet from Bari in Italy
- "Exultet". Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05730b.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-18.
- Chant notation from the 1970 Missale Romanum. Church Music Association of America. Retrieved on 2007-03-31.