Alternate Cantors During the Exsultet

Author: ZENIT


Alternate Cantors During the Exsultet

An Option Not Foreseen in Rubrics

Rome, 26 March 2019 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Our parish has had a deacon chanting the Exsultet for the past decade or so, but it is time to come up with a different option. None of the other deacons are capable of such a chant, nor are the priests trained in voice enough to accomplish the entire work. We have a perfectly capable cantor, and I know that a cantor can chant the proclamation without the parts specific to a cleric. Is it acceptable to split the proclamation so that the cantor chants the bulk of the proclamation, and one of the priests chants the parts specific to the clergy? – G.K., Holmdel, New Jersey

A: I am presupposing that our reader desires to change the deacon proclaiming the Exsultet out of necessity and not from some desire for novelty.

Singing the Exsultet is a proper function of a deacon, and if there is a deacon available, the rubrics clearly indicate a preference for him over any other minister. A priest or lay cantor should only be called upon if no deacon is available or capable of singing the Easter Proclamation.

When a lay cantor is used, the rubrics only provide for the omission of texts reserved to the ordained minister. To wit:

“If, however, because of necessity, a lay cantor sings the Proclamation, the words ‘Therefore dearest friends’ up to the end of the invitation are omitted, along with the greeting ‘The Lord be with you.’

The full text to be omitted is:

“Therefore, dearest friends, standing in the awesome glory of this holy light, invoke with me, I ask you, the mercy of God almighty, that he, who has pleased to number me, though unworthy, among the Levites, may pour into me his light unshadowed, that I may sing this candle’s perfect praise.”

The above paragraph introduces and explains the liturgical greeting “The Lord be with you” which is reserved to the ordained minister. It would make little sense for the priest to sing just this part and not sing the rest of the Exsultet. After all, why ask the faithful to invoke God’s mercy to sing the praises of the candle if he does not do so?

Even if the shorter version of the Exsultet is used, thus omitting the above paragraph, It would also seem appropriate that the priest avoids making an interjection at this point just to sing, “The Lord be with you.”

Since the Exsultet is musically challenging and as far as possible is sung without the support of any musical instrument, such an interruption could lead an insecure cantor to lose the tone.

Therefore a lay cantor would omit the “Lord be with you” but would sing: “Lift up your hearts” with the people responding in “We lift them to the Lord” as with the preface at Mass, although with a slight variation as to the traditional Gregorian melody.

■ It is true that there are many choral settings available, even some with instrumental accompaniment. However, while the rubrics do allow for the organ to support singing, from a liturgical standpoint, the best option during this part of the Easter Vigil remains the single unaccompanied deacon, priest or cantor. In this way, the organ is reserved to accompany the ringing of bells at the intonation of the Gloria.

As to the history of the Exsultet, there is clear evidence that this solemn rite began no later than the second half of the fourth century. For example, the use of singing a hymn in praise of the candle and the Easter mystery is mentioned as an established custom in a letter of St. Jerome, written in 384 to Presidio, a deacon from Piacenza, Italy.

Saints Ambrose and Augustine are also known to have composed such Easter proclamations. The poetic and solemn text of the Exsultet now in use originated in the fifth century, but its author is unknown.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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