When the Pastor Tells You He’ll be Singing ‘The Exsultet’

When the Pastor Tells You He’ll be Singing ‘The Exsultet’ April 11, 2019

A deacon friend writes:

Well, this is a first for me. The new pastor at the parish put out the Holy Week and Triduum outlines for himself, the other priest and myself.

And lo and behold, he is doing the Exsultet.

Now, I do not have a professional voice, but it is passable. And I didn’t challenge him in the meeting, I just asked if that was correct and he said, “Yes, I’m doing the Exsultet.” When he asked me if I had done the whole thing before, I said yes, but I’ve also done the short form and I’ve also done a short version of the short form. and I’ve done the “old form,” and I’ve even done the “Christ Be Our Light” version.

“Oh, okay,” he said. “I’m doing the long form.”

Discussion over.

When I was doing my thesis on the diaconate, I remember running into a phrase that has made so much sense ever since: the omnivorous presbyterate. So many of these guys just don’t get how to allow deacons to be deacons.

Worth noting here are the rubrics for The Exsultet (also known as the Easter Proclamation):

The Deacon, after incensing the book and the candle, proclaims the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) at the ambo or at a lectern, with all standing and holding lighted candles in their hands. The Easter Proclamation may be made, in the absence of a Deacon, by the Priest himself or by another concelebrating Priest. If, however, because of necessity, a lay cantor sings the Proclamation, the words up to the end of the invitation are omitted, along with the greeting.  The Proclamation may  also be sung in the shorter form.

This is similar to what is prescribed for the Gospel: 

By tradition, the function of proclaiming the readings is ministerial, not presidential. The readings, therefore, should be proclaimed by a lector, and the Gospel by a deacon or, in his absence, a priest other than the celebrant. If, however, a deacon or another priest is not present, the priest celebrant himself should read the Gospel.

I tell the men in homiletics class that if a priest insists on reading the Gospel — usually he’ll say, “Since I’m preaching, I’ll just do it”— it’s prudent to remind him, respectfully, that the Gospel rightly belongs to the deacon. In my experience, they usually are happy to oblige. Most just don’t realize it’s part of the deacon’s job.

Back to The Exsultet issue. A couple years ago, Bill Ditewig offered this beautiful reflection on the deacon’s role during The Easter Vigil:

The message of the Exsultet for the Easter people is nothing less than a joy-filled proclamation of the Gospel of Christ.  All of creation is called to rejoice at the end of “gloom and darkness.”  This is the night, we hear repeatedly, that everything has changed through the power of Christ.  In its most powerful passage, we are told that this is the night that “dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.”  In short, the great Easter Proclamation is a shout of unrestrained joy over the Good News of our God.  It is, in a very special way, the Gospel itself.   It is the Deacon who has – from the charge received at ordination – a primary responsibility for the proclamation of that Gospel.

None of that, evidently, would occur to the pastor in question — or, I suspect, to most pastors.

If the pastor wants to sing the great Easter Proclamation, that’s perfectly reasonable. It’s his call. But there are good, constructive ways of letting that be known.

This wasn’t one of them.

UPDATE: A priest left this response on Twitter…

 My experience had been the diaconate lacks the training and ability to even proclaim in a worthily way the Gospel much less execute key liturgical acts such as the Exsultet. Sunday after Sunday we hang our heads at the lackluster execution of the “deacons job.” It’s just easier to do it yourself than to allow it to be ruined. “Sing to the Lord” says good music enhances prayer while bad music destroys prayer. The same can be said about the proclamation of the Gospel and/or the Exsultet. Humility would help everyone understand their limitations. In a perfect world, each would do their role flawlessly, including the laity. Lastly, you’re venting to the echo chamber when you should talk to him.

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