The Exultet and bees

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Every Easter, I am amazed by the sheer beauty of the Exultet, the great hymn of praise that is proclaimed at the start of the Easter Vigil. What wonderful poetry it is:

Hæc nox est,

in qua, destrúctis vínculis mortis,

Christus ab ínferis victor ascéndit.

Nihil enim nobis nasci prófuit, nisi rédimi profuísset.

O mira circa nos tuæ pietátis dignátio!

O inæstimábilis diléctio caritátis:

ut servum redímeres, Fílium tradidísti!

O certe necessárium Adæ peccátum,

quod Christi morte delétum est!

O felix culpa,quæ talem ac tantum méruit habére Redemptórem!

O vere beáta nox,

quæ sola méruit scire tempus et horam,

in qua Christus ab ínferis resurréxit!

 

This is the night
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death, and rose
victorious from the underworld.

Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.

O wonder of your humble care for us!

O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!

O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!

O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

O truly blessed night, worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!

(This is just part of the great hymn, which has a majestic sweep all of its own.)

Another aspect of the hymn that jumps out at me are the references to bees.

On this, your night of grace,
O holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.

and,

But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God’s honour,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees
to build a torch so precious.

Why are these references so important? Well, let me hand you over to the great Fabrice Hadjadj who gave this wonderful Lenten talk in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris in 2018, a talk you can read along with others in the series in the book shown at the top of this post. Both the book and the talk are in French but, for reasons he explains in the cathedral, Hadjadj speaks slowly and clearly so it’s quite clear even to broadly monolingual Francophiles.

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