New English translation of the Exsultet – Yeah or Nay?

This keeps coming up here and there – people make widely varying comments about the 2011 translation of the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation. Some like it more than others.

For what it’s worth, I rather like it. I think it’s poetic, elegant, and accessible. There are a few places that are a bit “too,” but not many. There are many more places where it soars. I’m glad the translator was given the liberty to repeat words for the sake of rhythm and poetry – and she did so nicely, starting with the opening phrase, “Exult, let them exult.”

For the record, Vox Clara didn’t touch the Exsultet translation they got from ICEL (via the conferences). So we can set aside that issue.

Now I already liked the previous translation, so I’m not coming at it with that bias.

I like the chant setting (I know I have a bias on that…), but I am concerned at its level of difficulty. I wonder whether there shouldn’t be another simplex setting to help out our deacons.

What do you think? What do you like in the English text, or not?

Here’s the full text of the Exsultet, 2011 English next to the Latin, compliments of Wikipedia.

 

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41 comments

  1. Funny you should mention this. This past year was my first deep exposure to the text, assisting a rookie cantor, and being the accompanist for the Vigil for the first time in 3-4 years.

    I liked it also. I was preparing to cringe, and I don’t honestly recall anything that was a serious problem.

    I assume whoever got the assignment did a good job. Or that the Vox Clara bishops left it the heck alone because it was part of the Vigil and the prelates just waved their hand over that bit.

    1. I believe Maria Boulding was the translator, and she is certainly widely known as an excellent translator.

      Funny that Anthony should mention a “simplex” setting. Just today I came across a couple of simplified chants by the Episcopal deacon Ormond Plater, one of which is adapted from an Ambrosian preface tone. The text is BCP, but it could certainly be adapted to the ICEL text.

      I’ve never chanted the Exsultet myself. We have an excellent cantor who has done it for years and I would hate to usurp her; she sings it far better than I ever could.

  2. I like the translation, and this year our Deacon chanted it (we’ve always had a cantor previously) so we got to do “Deacon parts” for the first time. Our Deacon is not the greatest chanter in the world so he and I worked together on a very simplified setting. It went fine, and from what I heard the congregation thought so as well.

  3. I like it as well, though I also continue to like the previous translation. This bit of new translation works, unlike much of the rest of the 2011 version.

    I can think of three places where the new version seems a bit off key. The first is in the clumsy use of an imperative plus an “English subjunctive” (Exult, let them exult), where the previous version opts for an imperative (Rejoice, heavenly powers). That strikes me as an unfortunate fetter from the unfortunate Lit Auth; it comes across as stilted and less than dynamic.

    The second is the weird rendering of tanti luminis adornata fulgoribus as “arrayed with the lightning of his glory”, which is neither makes sense in English nor mirrors the Latin in a literal slavish Liturgically Authentic way.

    And the third — yes, I know this may be controversial — is the direct translation of intra Levitarum as “among the Levites”. That strikes me as requiring lots of catechesis if people are to understand it.

    But then, so do the Truly Necessary Sin of Adam and the Happy Fault.

    All in all, a fine job by the 2011 translators. And thanks to Vox Clara for setting down their red pens on this one!

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #4:

      Re. the phrase ‘intra levitas.’ It clearly applies to deacons. But what if a priest chants it (like I did this Easter)? I am not a levite, so who/what am I (no rude answers please) in terms of this style?

      So I amended the text to the old ‘among his ministers’ That worked fine. I didn’t even think if trying to catechesis-ise.

      I found the new text generally easy to chant with preparation and a few pencil marks to help me on my way.

      Bits of it (cf. previous comments) were odd, but in general I thought it was a good version.

      Alan Griffiths.

  4. I will have a better idea how the text feels once I’ve been able to prepare it and chant it myself, which hasn’t happened yet. For now, having chanted the other translation for many years, I’m having a hard time separating my resistance to change from genuine inadequacies in this text. So far, I think the biggest clunker is “things of heaven are wed to those of earth.” I much prefer the more direct “heaven is wedded to earth.” I’m also bothered by the third-person introductory section (“let them exult”) which seems to distance the listener more than the second-person address of the previous translation (“your King . . . glory fills you”).

    Just my two cents.

  5. Thumbs down from this reviewer. I dislike just about everything about it.

    Talk about sawdust. “These, then, are the feasts of passover.” Then? “Devoted service of our voice.” Yes, just what I was thinking, of the devoted service of our voice. It’s Martian, not English. “Our birth would have been no gain, had we not been redeemed.” Stilted and didactic in tone, hardly, ah, catches the imagination.

    And the omission of apis mater because the mother bee doesn’t actually make the wax. What a decision. Whatever happened to exact translation? A fine Marian symbol down the drain because of a sudden passion for scientific correctness concerning insect life. Give me a break. It’s poetry, not entomology.

    These, then, are my comments.

    (I added that last line because I thought it would help you to take my comments more seriously. 🙂 )

    1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #6:
      “And the omission of apis mater because the mother bee doesn’t actually make the wax. ..”

      Do you have the same text as us in the Antipodes? Ours reads:

      “… for it is fed by melting wax,
      drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious.”

      There is an earlier reference to bees, but the Latin does not use ‘mother’ there:

      “Accept this candle, a solemn offering,
      the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
      an evening sacrifice of praise…”

      The bees were entirely missing from the previous 1970s’ translation, as well as 1998… so your remarks about “poetry, not entomology.” need to be directed there, rather than at Maria Boulding, who may not have made a perfect translation but whose ears were not, I am sure, deaf to poetry. – Martin OP

      1. @Martin Wallace OP – comment #31:
        I apologize for the confusion.

        What the translation does is to change the singular to the plural, thus eliminating the implied reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary (singular).

        I was told, by someone in a position to know, that the change had been made out of scientific concerns.

        Do you know why apis mater is plural in the English translation?

      2. @Rita Ferrone – comment #32:
        In a conversation with various scientist friends, they noted for me that for people who have been trained in science, hearing prayers/invocations/hymns/sermons that fly in the face of what they spend their days working on is like a liturgical speed bump. The flow of worship for them is interrupted with “Wait — did that just say . . .” and they have to struggle to return to the prayer/invocation/hymn/etc.

        [This came up in a conversation about the Herb Brokering hymn “Earth and All Stars” with its line “loud boiling test tubes.” As one scientist told me, “if the tubes are boiling, you’re doing it wrong.” It drives her nuts every time she hears the hymn.]

        Thus, a change for scientific concerns is not simply a kind of liturgical version of Political Correctness, but a legitimate concern for the entire community’s ability to worship via these texts.

      3. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #33:
        I so agree about “loud boiling test tubes”!! — it has always bothered me too, and I’m not even a scientist. Of course, it was written in the late twentieth century, and test tubes then and now are really much the same, so there’s no excuse.

        The thing with the mother bee, however, is a lovely chain of associations from late antiquity. See my article: https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/virgil-vigil-0

        The new translation principles enunciated to guide our current liturgical translation supposedly provide for the preservation of historical traces as part of our patrimony. And having a reference that isn’t easy to understand at first sight isn’t supposed to be a reason to omit it.

        The Exsultet is a pre-modern liturgical text. The task wasn’t to modernize it.

        I would imagine that scientists could make the necessary mental adjustment to pray with a text that is scientifically inaccurate (as we all do with the Genesis creation account, for example) by understanding the poetic analogy involved.

      4. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #33:
        Peter, another example occurred to me after I posted.

        I was at a conference in which a contemporary writer of prayer texts presented a prayer of blessing over water. I asked her why she hadn’t included any birth referents or imagery in it, since it was (as I recall) possibly going to be used at the Easter Vigil. She said it was an intentional omission because amneotic fluid isn’t water.

        I was a little taken aback at this. It seemed so literalistic. The baptismal font as “womb,” the “birth” of the church from the side of Christ on the cross through “blood and water”; even the colloquial “her water broke” to indicate that a woman is going into labor… none of that mattered.

        So perhaps this is a bit like what you are describing, trying to make our prayers more scientifically accurate, thus removing those “speed bumps” for the scientific-minded modern listener. But does that mean we have to give up metaphor and extended uses of symbol — like baptismal font as womb — because they are not scientifically accurate?

        There’s a real issue here, beyond the Exsultet, and I don’t want to derail the thread any further, so this is my last comment. But… the resistance to fundamentalism was behind taking out birth imagery. Yet the result was also literalistic, only according to a different epistemology.

  6. It’s more tolerable than most of the translations we’re working with. (I felt linguistically wounded particularly on Good Friday this year, though I’ve already repressed the details.) But, as I’ve commented here previously, I think the musical setting is excellent. I work in a fairly rebellious parish, where no one would raise an eyebrow if I used the old translation, but I choose the new because of the quality of the chant. It’s difficult and requires lots of practice, but I’ve now helped three different young cantors prepare it, and they have all been able to sing it with lightness and grace.

  7. I’m gonna be That Guy. Here’s the 1998 ICEL:

    Exult and sing, O heav’nly choirs of angels!
    Rejoice, all you powers in heaven and on earth!
    Jesus Christ our King is risen!
    Sound the trumpet, sing of our salvation!

    Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour,
    radiant in the brightness of your king!
    Lands that once lay covered by darkness,
    see Christ’s glory filling all the universe!

    Rejoice, O mother Church, with all your children,
    resplendent in your risen Saviour’s light!
    Let our joyful voices resound this night!
    Let God’s people shake these walls with shouts of praise!

    Rejoice, beloved friends and heirs with Christ,
    standing with me in this wondrous light!
    Pray that God grant to me, a deacon of the Church,
    strength to sing this Easter candle’s praises.

    Rejoice, beloved friends and heirs with Christ,
    standing with me in this wondrous light!
    Join me in seeking from God’s Holy Spirit
    grace to sing this Easter proclamation.

    V. The Lord be with you.
    R. And also with you.

    V. Lift up your hearts.
    R. We lift them up to the Lord.

    V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
    R. It is right to give thanks and praise.

    It is truly right and just
    that with full hearts and minds and voices,
    we should praise you, unseen God, almighty Father,
    and your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

    For Christ ransomed us with his precious blood
    and, by nailing to the cross the decree that condemned us,
    he paid to you, eternal Father, the price of Adam’s sin.

    This is our passover feast,
    when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
    whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

    This is the night
    when first you set the children of Israel free:
    you saved our ancestors from slavery in Egypt
    and led them dry-shod through the sea.

    This is the night
    when you led your people by a pillar of fire:
    with your light you showed them the way
    and destroyed all the darkness of sin.

    (continued…)

  8. (…continued from #8)

    This is the night
    when Christians everywhere,
    washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
    are restored to grace and grow in holiness.

    This is the night
    when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
    and in triumphant glory rose from the grave.

    What good would life have been for us
    had Christ not come as our Redeemer?

    O God, how wonderful your care for us!
    How boundless your merciful love!
    To ransom a slave, you gave up a Son!

    O necessary sin of Adam,
    destroyed by the death of Christ!

    O happy fault,
    which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

    O night truly blest! O night chosen above all others
    to see Christ rise in glory from the dead!

    This is the night
    of which the Scripture says:
    ”Even darkness is not dark for you,
    and the night will shine as clear as the day!”

    How holy is this night,
    which heals our wounds and washes all evil away!

    A night to restore lost innocence and bring mourners joy!
    A night to cast out hatred!
    A night for seeking peace and humbling pride!

    O truly blessed night
    when heaven is wedded to earth
    and we are reconciled with God!

    Therefore, Father most holy, in the joy of this night,
    receive our evening sacrifice of praise,
    the solemn offering of your holy people.

    Accept this Easter candle,
    a flame divided but undimmed,
    a pillar of fire that glows to the honour of God.

    Let it mingle with the lights of heaven
    and continue bravely burning
    to dispel the darkness of this night!
    May the Morning Star which never sets
    find this flame still burning.
    Christ is that Morning Star,
    who rose to shed his peaceful light on all creation
    and lives and reigns with you for ever and ever.

    Amen.

  9. It isn’t quite true that the revisers left the Exsultet untouched: in the final line they changed ‘humankind’ to ‘humanity’, thus destroying for that line the iambic rhythm that runs through the piece.

  10. I think the new text is fine. But why “Exsult” rather than “Exult” in the opening line? “Exsult” doesn’t seem to have an entry in the online Merriam-Webster. Does “Exsult” have shades of meaning that would distinguish it from “exult”? Not to put too fine a point on it, but – is it even an English word?

    Also: a question for chant experts, regarding the chant setting in the missal: the varying embellishments on the successive “This is the night …” – are those embellishments to be taken as suggestions, a sort of a cadenza on which the solo chanter can exercise some artistic license, or must one sing them slavishly to be respectful? It’s not that I can’t sing them, and perhaps I’m bringing an anachronistic sensibility to this, but it seems to me that the very variability of those embellishments detracts from the parallel construction of the text, which otherwise could be a “hook” for the listener’s ear. I trust I’m not being too much of a philistine in noting that it can be wearisome and a bit anxiety-inducing to stand with a lit candle during the singing of this lengthy text. For those who are slightly less enthusiastic about liturgy than us – that is to say, for the great mass of humankind 🙂 – who may not be immersed in the details of the text, the whole experience can come across as a never-ending blob of syllables. Sorry if that’s too harsh an observation.

  11. “Exult” rather than “rejoice” is pure affectation. Harder to sing, too. I find that opening a total distraction that has me seething too much to listen to the rest.

  12. I’ve been privileged to sing the previous rendering 3 times, along with the 2011 version in its first year. As a person not fond of chant, the music of the 2011 version is fine, not too difficult but intricate and appropriate. Otherwise, I’m with Rita. I felt the older version was sometimes opaque to the listener. This new one becomes a series of holy-ish phrases, like reading Ulysses out loud. I ended up feeling the tone was more important than the words, something I very much dislike. I didn’t think the people would comprehend the meandering structure and the archaic phrasing, especially the first time through.

    Thanks for the 1998 version. Just speaking for myself, sacral language always makes me think we are trying to impress God. This is poetic, accessible, hearable.

    There is no reason for the Church to demand any one of these, or reject any of them as well.

  13. When the translation was in preparation, I tried hard to persuade people that ‘O truly necessary sin of Adam’ is not an appropriate translation, but that ‘necessarium’ there means ‘bound by close ties of relationship’, i.e. ‘friendly’. The same meaning is found in the Vulgate in Acts 10,24, where the Greek is ‘anagkaious philous’, translated ‘close friends’ in NRSV. The point is that Adam’s sin is friendly to us and his fault fortunate (‘felix culpa’) for us, because it provoked God’s response, our redemption.
    However, so much ink has been spilt over this passage that few could be persuaded that this translation was desirable, or even possible.

      1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #16:
        ‘Friendly sin’ was the best I could think of for this bold Latin expression, but I should be interested to hear other suggestions.

      2. @Mgr Bruce Harbert – comment #26:
        If we ready “necessary” in terms of Aquinas’s analysis (drawing from Aristotle) of the necessity of the Incarnation (Summa theologiae I q. 1 a. 2), then this might be seen as a matter of “fittingness” (the weakest form of necessity).

        And if we were willing to reach back to Julian of Norwich’s 14th-century English, we might render this as, “O behoovely sin of Adam.” It probably wouldn’t fly, but I, at least, would like it.

      3. @Mgr Bruce Harbert – comment #26:
        “Indeed, Adam’s sin was a good thing, since it has been destroyed by the death of Christ; indeed the guilt turned out well, since it needed so great and glorious a Redeemer.”

        Not Liturgiam allegedly authenticam–but perhaps the ‘since’ (it’s presumably out of the question that the ‘quod’ is because) captures the sense of connectedness in necessarium.

        The adaptation of RM2 that I made in order to include congregational responses (inspired by Paul Inwood, but with less demanding responses) says: ‘what a good thing it was that we sinned’.

    1. @Mgr Bruce Harbert – comment #14:
      Doesn’t this touch on the whole notion of redemption: would Christ have come if Adam had not sinned and human beings retained a state of grace? Theology doesn’t yet have a final word on this. As the text reads, I don’t have as much of a problem with the expression, so long as we understand we’re not eliminating other possibilities.

  14. I, for one, would not be in favor of a simplex Exsultet. It is an exuberant text that requires the elaborate treatment.

  15. I cannot understand the grammatical construction of this part of the 2011 Exsultet translation: “a flame divided but undimmed, which glowing fire ignites for God’s honor…”

    Is it the flame that ignites? Is it the fire that ignites?

    In addition, the use of ignite as an intransitive verb in this case seems unusual. It appears to me that a more common understanding is that a fire is ignited, rather than igniting itself, unless one is speaking of spontaneous combustion.

    Also, the use of the word “which” has me scratching my head.

    Can anyone shed light on this (pardon the pun!)?

    (The previous translation was: “a flame divided but undimmed, a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God,” which was also used in the rejected 1998 version.)

  16. Fr. Anthony – my bad, I should have checked the book before assuming. Thanks as always for your graciousness.

  17. It’s mostly fine and remains an amazing experience to sing. I sing ‘exult’ as ‘exalt’ to keep the vowel open. ‘Shake with joy’ is one of many little good things. The melismas are ok… you could leave them out if found taxing, since there are by definition no mistakes in solo chant :).
    ‘Dazzling is the night…’ is ok, though I sing ‘… for me’ sotto voce because the sudden 1st person singular seems out of place there.
    I lose momentum when the lovely undimming of shared light is breathlessly attributed to endless beeswax, though some friends like every drip.
    Placing the last high note on ‘domain’ is a bit anticlimactic, but that could be a deliberate choice to calm me down and help keep me from my habitual giant slaloming off the mountain.

  18. Here’s a little story about the new translation of the Exsultet. As has been said, Dame Maria Boulding played a considerable part in its preparation. Shortly after it was finished, Maria fell ill and died. I was one of those whom she had asked her Abbess to email on her death, so I received the news very soon after she had died. In response, I emailed to the Abbess the new version of the Exsultet, as yet unpublished. The Abbess took it into the room where Maria’s body lay, and read it aloud. Having finished, she looked up, and she felt sure that she could see Maria smiling.

  19. Generally, I prefer the 1973 version. I’ve had a hard time with the extra notes in the current version which, in my mind, don’t always quite fit English cadence. Note that I regularly sung the 1973 version at Vigils almost continuously from 1979 until 2 years ago when the current Missal was published.

    I’m assuming the reference to “bees” in the 1973 version was omitted because India received an indult to use oil lamps even for the Paschal Candle (and the reference to bees would not make sense if one used a common Exsultet throughout the English-speaking world).

    I find some of the current phrases awkward, e.g., “Who for our sake … sinfulness.” is not a proper English sentence.

    After two years of struggling, I gave up trying to follow the music exactly for “This [5 notes] is [2 notes]” in “This is the night, when once you led …” The previous version had “This [4 notes] is [1 note] …” and it seems more appealing to my ear. Another phrase I had difficulty with was “lead- [3 notes] ing [2 notes] them [2 notes] to grace” (or “May [3 notes] this [2 notes] flame [2 notes] be found …”).

    A “simplex” version, to me, sounds way too “simplistic,” because I love the ancient chant tone, but it takes time and energy to “get up to speed” when one uses it only once a year and there are so many (in my mind) unexpected and awkward phrases and word-note correspondences. Personally, I would appreciate “simpler” version with fewer slurs, a la the 1973 version.

  20. I have been asked to sing the Easter Proclamation after not having sung it for a few years. the version I am familiar with is Rejoice, heavenly powers!

    Is the new translation, Exult, let them exult…. mandatory? Is it possible to sing the older version?

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