Exsultet Iam Angelica Turba
EXSULTET IAM ANGELICA TURBA
The opening words of the praeconium, or hymn of praise, sung by the deacon in celebration of Christ's Resurrection after the Lumen Christi procession has entered the church for the solemn service of the easter vigil. Laus (consecratio, benedictio) cerei, that is, "praise (consecration, blessing) of the candle," is a not infrequent title of this hymn in the oldest MSS, since it is sung in connection with the blessing and offering of the paschal candle, the light of which symbolizes the glory of the risen Christ.
Date, Authorship, Place of Origin, Diffusion. Evidences for this practice date from the late fourth and early fifth centuries. A famous letter in which the author (St. Jerome?) refuses the favor requested by Praesidius, deacon of Piacenza, to help him with the composition of a laus cerei, was written in 384. Less than 40 years later, St. Augustine, in his City of God (15.22), quoted the first three hexameters of a laus cerei, which he had composed years before. Two Benedictiones cerei are included among the works of ennodius, Bishop of Pavia (d. 521). From the fact that individual clerics were free to compose their own texts, it may be concluded that at one time variations of this hymn were fairly numerous. Only nine, however, have survived in their entirety: (1) the Exsultet, still in use wherever the Roman rite is followed; (2) the formula of the "Old" Gelasian Sacramentary (Incipit: Deus mundi conditor ); (3) the Ambrosian text, still sung in Milan; (4 and 5) the two Benedictiones of Ennodius;(6) an interesting text of the Visigothic period preserved in a unique manuscript of the Escorial; (7) the Vetus Itala text, called also Beneventan; (8 and 9) the Benedictio lucernae and Benedictio cerei, comprised in the Visigothic-Hispanic (Mozarabic) Ordinal. To this list may be added a tenth laus cerei, of African origin, which, if not complete, seems to lack only an explicit statement of the celebritas for which it was composed and the concluding petitions for ecclesiastical and civil authorities, for clergy and people.
Of these texts, the Exsultet is considered one of the oldest and by at least one scholar, Dom Pinell of Montserrat, as antedating all the others. On stylistic grounds, notably by reason of the rhythmic clausulae, it is assigned to the fifth century (Di Capua) and by some to the late fourth. This latter date is certainly correct if St. Ambrose (d. 397) was the author. The points of contact in diction and style with his works are numerous enough in the Exsultet, the best known and most important being an all but literal quotation from the saint's exposition of Luke (2.41): Nihil enim nobis nasci profuit [Ambrose: Non prodesset nasci] nisi redimi profuisset. It is not surprising that certain authors are convinced, or at least strongly inclined to believe, that the famous bishop of Milan was the author (Capelle, Pinell). Others, again, find in this praeconium stylistic defects that they consider unworthy of Ambrose (Fischer, Huglo). Unless new discoveries of an unexpected sort are made, the debate will probably never be settled. The author, whoever he was, had an intimate
knowledge of Ambrose's works, was reared in the same rhetorical tradition and worked in northern Italy or Gaul, this latter possibility being suggested by the occurrence in the Missale Gothicum, a Gallican book written c. 700 (but containing older material), of certain passages found in the Exsultet to say nothing of stylistic resemblances. In any event, the Exsultet was known in Gaul, and it is an interesting fact that what may be called the triumphal course of this remarkable hymn began in Gaul. There it was included by the scribes in copies that they made of liturgical books brought up from Rome—at first, in addition to the Roman text (the second of the ten documents mentioned above), but this latter was finally omitted altogether. alcuin, indeed, placed the Exsultet at the beginning of his supplement to the Gregorian Sacramentary sent up to Charlemagne by Pope Adrian I, and finally it came into use at Rome itself to the exclusion of the other text.
The modern text of the Exsultet, i.e., the praeconium following the Lumen Christi procession, is to be found in any official edition of the Roman Missal published after 1951.
Contents. The Exsultet is in two sections, the first being a prologue, which constitutes about one-fifth of the entire composition and has the form of an elaborate invitatory of which the second half is an "apology" on the part of the deacon, who requests the aid of his listeners' prayers. This leads into the second section, properly called the laus cerei, which is preceded by a dialogue such as is used before the Eucharistic prayer of the Mass. What follows is an elaborate proclamation of this paschal festivity that commemorates the slaying of the true Lamb, a proclamation of this night that destroyed the darkness of sin and restores the faithful to grace and holiness. Adam's sin was "profitable," indeed, and a "happy fault" that had so great a Redeemer. (This passage was expunged in certain churches and monasteries for some time during the Middle Ages.) God is asked to accept this burning sacrifice, which Holy Church through its ministers offers by the oblation of a candle, a product of the industry of the bee. (Originally, there followed at this point an elaborate praise of the bee, which was later deleted.) The praise of this night is resumed, the night that despoiled the Egyptians and enriched the Israelites; the night in which things of heaven are joined to things of earth. God is asked that this candle may continue unfailingly to destroy the darkness of this night, that it may mingle with the lights of heaven. In conclusion, there is a brief prayer for the tranquillity of God's servants—the clergy and the devoted people of God—in this paschal celebration.
Pentecost Exsultet. Through many centuries there was sung in the cathedral of Besançon, France, during the vigil of Pentecost, an adaptation of the Easter Exsultet to the mystery of Whitsunday—a liturgical curiosity of no little interest. An attempt to introduce this custom at Reims seems to have had short-lived success.
Bibliography: j. braun, "Osterpräconium u. Osterkerzenweihe," Stimmen aus Maria-Laach 56 (1899) 273–286. g. mercati, Paralipomena Ambrosiana (StTest 12; 1904) 24–43. a. franz, Die kirchlichen Benediktionen im Mittelalter, 2 v. (Freiburg i. Br. 1909; repr. Graz 1960) 1:519–553. h. m. bannister, "The Vetus Itala Text of the Exsultet, " Journal of Theological Studies 11 (1909–10) 43–54. g. morin, "Pour l'authenticité de la lettre de S. Jérôme à Présidius," Bulletin d'ancienne littérature et d'archéologie chrétiennes 3 (1913) 52–60. f. di capua, "Il Ritmo nella prosa liturgica e il Praeconium Paschale," Didaskaleion NS5.2 (1927) 1–23; repr. in Scritti minori, 2 v. (Rome 1959) 1:441–459, e. h. kantorowicz, "A Norman Finale of the Exultet and the Rite of Sarum," Harvard Theological Review 34 (1941) 129–143. b. capelle, "L' Exultet Pascal oeuvre de Saint Ambroise," Miscellania Giovanni Mercati 1:219–246. b. fischer, "Ambrosius der Verfasser des österlichen Exultet? " Archiv für Liturgiewissenschaft 2 (1952) 61–74. c. mohrmann, "Exultent divina mysteria," Ephemerides liturgicae 66 (1952) 274–281. g. benoit-castelli, "Le Praeconium paschale, " ibid. 67 (1953) 309–334. m. huglo, "L'Auteur de l' Exultet pascal," Vigilae christianae 7 (1953) 79–88. a. strittmatter, "The Pentecost Exultet of Reims and Besançon" in Studies in Art and Literature for Belle da Costa Greene, ed. d. miner (Princeton, N.J. 1954) 384–400. a. guny, Catholicisme 4:1014–16. h. a. schmidt, Hebdomada Sancta, 2 v. (Rome 1956–57) 1:291–292; 2:627–650, 809–826, 976–977. j. m. pinell, "La benedicció del ciri pasqual i els seus textos," Liturgica 2 (1958) 1–119. l. kunz and h. lausberg, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 3: 1318–19. p. verbraken," Une Laus cerei africaine," Revue Bénédictine 70 (1960) 301–312. l. eizenhÖfer, "Die Feier der Ostervigil in der Benediktiner Abtei San Silvestro zu Foligno um das Jahr 1100," Archiv für Liturgiewissenschaft 6 (1960) 349–353. For the study of the Exsultet Rolls (28 and three related rolls are extant): e. bertaux, L'Art dans l'Italie méridionale (Paris 1904) 213–240. m. avery, The Exultet Rolls of South Italy (Princeton 1936) v.2, 53 pp. of text, 206 plates, v. 1 unpub. g. b. ladner, "The 'Portraits' of Emperors in Southern Italian Exultet Rolls and the Liturgical Commemoration of the Emperor," Speculum 17 (1942) 181–200. "Mostra storica nazionale della miniature, palazzo di Venezia (Rome)," Catalogo (Florence 1953) 47–52. j. wettstein, Sant' Angelo in Formis et la peinture médiévale en Campanie (Geneva 1960) 128–151.