Saturday, March 26, 2016

"A fire... never dimmed by the sharing of its light ": The Evangelizing Message of the Exsultet

At the Easter Vigil, we begin by blessing the paschal candle, from which are lit the candles of all the people. As soon the paschal candle is lifted into its place of honor and incensed, the deacon (priest, or if necessary, cantor) begins to chant what is arguably the most important text of the entire church year: the Exsultet.

This is the great hymn announcing the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, brought into the present moment by the insistent repetition of "This is the night..." It is also a celebration of all of salvation history and the meaning of the paschal candle itself, which, while made of beeswax,"the work of the bees," is the very light of the risen Christ.

The Exsultet connects the sin of Adam with the Passover, the crossing of the Red Sea, and this "night when Christ broke the prison bars of death, and rose victorious from the underworld."   It is the "truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wedded to earth and divine to the human."

As each person in the assembly holds his or her small, flickering candle, lit from the paschal candle, we hear of the "fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by the sharing of its light."  Finally, the paschal candle itself is offered to God, to "mingle with the lights of heaven."

So, what do we hear in the Exsultet?  The message and meaning of the kerygma, pure and simple. The Exsultet is a full review of the significance and circumstances of Christ's coming, of the way it was foreshadowed in the history of his Jewish ancestors, and of his redemptive work in saving us from the "truly necessary sin of Adam."

We come to know, through this mighty song, the essential meaning of the Paschal Mystery. We receive an exhortation to unite ourselves with that mystery, knowing that whenever we share the light of Christ with others, that light is multiplied, not diminished. Even as the paschal candle itself is shared and offered as an oblation (offering) to God, so, each believer's light should be shared and offered.

The takeaway? Our very sharing of the story and message of Jesus Christ (evangelization) is an offering to God and a necessary consequence of God's mercy in sending his Son to save us from sin and death.

So this year, don't be distracted by the lengthy chant. Listen to the message. It is an exhortation for you to discover that: "Dazzling is the night for me and full of gladness."  "Exult" indeed, then go out to spread the Good News.


  1. As soon as it's over it seems too short. I spend the whole year waiting for the next Exsultet.