The Excellent Exsultet

Greg refelcts on the beautiful Easter prayer, the Exsultet.

“Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,

exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,

let the trumpet of salvation

sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!”

Each time I hear this being sung at the beginning of every Easter vigil Mass, my heart and soul simply feel so uplifted, ready to exalt in the Resurrection of Christ together with His Church! The Exsultet holds such deep meaning, both in its verses and in the beautiful symbolism it uses. A century-old prayer that has been almost unaltered since the Middle Ages, the practice probably dates to even before that.

This beautiful hymn accompanies the lighting of the candles during the initial Service of Light of the Vigil as the darkness of the Church is broken by the gentle yet steady flames of the candles. It heralds the start of the vigil and prepares us for the great celebration of Easter. My goodness, I could go on and on about this brilliant hymn and the meanings about it that I’ve read up on. But I’m neither qualified enough, (going to leave the lit stuff to the very talented Garrett) nor will this article have enough space to fully capture the depth of this hymn. Instead, I thought it would be a good reminder, as the Easter season comes to a close, about the message of Easter.

I think, looking at the Exsultet, it falls nicely into 3 major themes. The first is one of praise. At its core, it is a call of exultation; a hymn of praise to God for His penultimate act of Love. It is not a quiet praise nor a personal thanksgiving; it is a praise that comes from the very depths of the souls of every human, a praise that transcends the Earth into the Heavens, a praise that “let(s) this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.” It calls us to remember that our entire being should be to bring praise to God, that no matter the darkness, no matter the gloom, we are called to be joyful people of the Light whose very lives seek to glorify and praise the name of He who has saved us on the Cross. Indeed, as the line goes in the Exsultet:

“It is truly right and just, with ardent love of mind and heart

and with devoted service of our voice,

to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father,

and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.”

The second theme, following the call of praise and exultation at the start, is the theme of salvation. The history of humanity has always been one of salvation and love. The middle part of the Exsultet proclaims this: the sacrifice of Christ,

“Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father,

and, pouring out his own dear Blood,

wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.”

The best part? It never, and will never, stop at the past. It extends all the way through salvation history from Adam to the Israelites in Egypt to this very day.

“This is the night

that even now, throughout the world,

sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices

and from the gloom of sin,

leading them to grace

and joining them to his holy ones.”

Since the fall of Man up until this very moment you’re reading this article, and all the way till the second coming of God, the central message remains the same: a message of the limitless Love of God and the salvation of humanity back into unity with God. A message that we will continue to hold in our hearts, knowing that though we may fall and stumble and be chained to the darkness, the victory has already been won and the Light of God will never go out. The fire of Christ in our hearts will never go out if we only look to Him to rekindle it each and every time it dims.

And the final theme (at least for this article) is one of unity; unity not just of humankind but that of Heaven and Earth, of Nature and Man, of Divinity and humanity.

“O truly blessed night,

when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,

and divine to the human.”

I used to think that some of these verses seem a bit superfluous. I mean they talk of bees and wax to build the candle and talk of the fragrance of the candle. (The original text apparently had quite a bit more to say about the bees apparently. They mustn’t have been too bee-sy since they took so much time to talk about the bees.) However, reading up and pondering on it, it now makes a bit more sense.

Humanity cannot be divorced from nature. The Exsultet echoes the words during offering of the bread and wine. The bread is “the fruit of the earth and work of human hands”, the wine is “fruit of the vine and work of human hands” and the candle is “work of the bees and of your servants’ hands”. It is a reminder of Genesis, in which the Earth and all its living things was entrusted to humankind for his/her use but only as stewards, and not as Creator. The emphasis on the natural part leads up to an emphasis on the Creator of nature: God. At the end of it all, Jesus came down so that he could reform humanity’s broken friendship with God. He was the epitome of unity: both human and Divine. In this final part of the Exsultet, I am reminded of two very important things. I am reminded that my purpose on this Earth is not simply individualistic and material but it is part of the larger goal of humanity to be in union with God. However, I am also reminded that while the goal exists in God alone, it is not right to simply ignore the things around me that are, in of itself, created and gifted to me by God, including nature and His people. As the Jesuits put it, “God in all things”.

Alas, I stop here in fear that I may never stop talking about this glorious piece of sacramental. However, though this article and the season of Easter may end, may this Exsultet, which began our Easters, be in our hearts as a reminder to continue to live Easter each and every day of our lives, with lips ready to praise God, hearts always inflamed with God’s love and lives seeking union with God and His people.

 

Spiritual Battles and Fantasy Worlds

Garrett muses on what fantasy fiction can teach us about our faith journeys.

In 1986, a writer named Stephen R. Donaldsen published an essay called “Epic Fantasy in the Modern World”. By then a renowned fantasy author himself, Donaldsen achieved fame through his Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series, which was famous for it’s handling of moral issues. In this essay, Donaldsen elaborated on the two terms he used to define his work – ‘epic’ and ‘fantasy’. It is these two terms that I’d like to look at and evaluate, not simply because I found the essay insightful, but because I believe that the terms epic and fantasy as Donaldsen describes them find their fulfilment in Jesus (as all things eventually do).

In part 1, we’ll look at the more familiar term, fantasy. The word itself when applied to entertainment needs almost no introduction, as shown by the popularity of the Lord of the Rings series of films, and more recently, the Game of Thrones television series, which seems to owe no small part of its success to scenes of sexual violence, torture and gore. The word ‘fantasy’ conjures up images of a pseudo-medieval world where men (or women) in shining armor prance about, alongside wizards and dragons. But is there really all there is to the Fantasy genre?

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7 Last Words — “Father, into your hands …” (Luke 23:46)

“Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46). This is the last sentence that Jesus spoke before he died on the cross, for us. In the Good Friday service of the Catholic Tradition, this is also the last sentence that the presider recites before the entire congregation kneels down in silence and acknowledges the harsh reality of Jesus’ death. These few words, simple and child-like but pregnant with poignancy speaks so much of Jesus’ reckless abandonment to his father – it reflects his radical trust and complete surrender to God.

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7 Last Words — “It is Finished” (John 19:30)

Chris reflects on the very last words of Jesus, and what they mean for our Christian mission here on earth.

Mission Accomplished. For the longest time in my childhood, the words “Mission Accomplished” were my two favorite words in the English Language because they always appeared with the completion of a particular level and/or scenario in a video game. Be it Super Mario Brothers, Harvest Moon or Grand Theft Auto, I enjoyed playing these games as they required the fulfillment of a designated mission. The completion of a mission often gave me a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. More importantly, however, the completion of a mission opened up yet another (unknown) level that I could further explore and with it came another mission to be fulfilled. This cycle was repeated until I finished playing the entire game.

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7 Last Words — “Woman, behold your son …” (John 19:26-27)

Chris reflects on the truly self-sacrificial love of Jesus, and how this love can be an example for us.

What pain and what agony Jesus must have felt when He said those words to his loved ones. What pangs of loss and anguish that Jesus must have experienced knowing that He would be (momentarily) separated from His mother and His beloved disciples. Separation: have we all not experienced this in one way or another before? Have we all not felt pain through separation, death and loss? Separation implies a dis-connection – to separate is to break away, to break apart, to be divorced from community; indeed the oft-used phrase “to go our separate ways” is undeniably tinged with melancholy and sadness. Here, then, we see a visceral portrayal of Jesus’ humanity – His desire for community and intimacy. Indeed, apart from being the savior of the world, Jesus was also a beloved son, a beloved brother, and a loving friend. Similar to you and I, Jesus also wanted to love and be loved by those around Him, especially in seasons of sorrow and loss.

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7 Last Words — “Truly, I say to you …” (Luke 23:43)

Chris reflects on the paradox of the ‘good thief’ who came to conversion by Jesus’ side on the Ctoss.

Imagine a middle-aged man who has lived a life of debauchery, decadence and waste. A man whom society would probably consider a menace, a “good-for-nothing” and an absolute failure in life. Imagine that this man whom many have given up on – possibly including himself – decides one day that he has had it, that an ultimatum is nigh. He thus commits a heinous crime: he steals something very valuable, clearly violating one of Moses’ 10 Commandments, a crime that requires him to be executed – hanged on a cross to die on Mount Golgotha … right next to Jesus Christ.

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Placing the Inn Keeper in the Advent Narrative

Chris shares a bit more about the inn-keeper in the Advent narrative and wonders whether all of us are sometimes inn-keepers towards the Holy Family as well.

“While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”  – Luke 2:6-7

I often wonder how Joseph must have felt when he received the news that there was “no place” for him and his pregnant wife from the innkeeper. Having travelled so many hours, in probably harsh and treacherous conditions, Joseph must have experienced immense disappointment, frustration and anger. Joseph possibily even panicked. Did he have a backup plan? He and his wife could not possibily stay on the streets right? And how about pregnant Mary? Surely traveling in her physical state must have been awfully tiring and painful. I wonder whether she cried out in helplessness upon hearing that there was “no place” for her and her husband. I wonder whether Joseph and Mary felt hopelessness and despair. Is it not interesting, then, to briefly ponder about how the Advent story – the often overly-cherry, merry-making and consumerist-laden narrative – began as a tale of rejection? On hindsight, would the innkeeper have created space and made room for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, should he have realised that he was actually rejecting the Holy Family?

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