A pillar of wax?

I was surprised that no one mentioned this in the thread on the Rohrbacher illuminated Exsultet.

While many have welcomed the Return of the Bees (sounds like a Hitchcock thriller!) in the revised translation of the Praeconium Paschale, it is very clear from the new, more literal rendering that this text is not really a Proclamation of Easter, which is what people think it is. Rather, it comes across more as a hymn to the candle itself. You will look in vain for the words “Christ is risen” in it.

Might there be a case for an alternative text which is actually an Easter Proclamation of the Resurrection? The 1970 translators gave us that through judicious slight modifications to the text, and in that respect the new version seems lacking by comparison.

While on the subject of bees, many have commented that it should be the Queen Bee, not the mother bee. In fact it appears that wax is produced not by the queen at all but by sterile worker bees. Clearly this was not known in the 7th century…


  1. It’s not a proclamation or a hymn: it’s an anaphora. There is a memorial offering (of the candle: the wax burns in a kind of sacrifice, much like the kidney caul fat of sacrificed animals was burned at the Temple….), anamnesis, the works. You see it more clearly in its older form, and when a cleric proclaims it you get the dialogues, et cet.

    1. The Byzantine Tradition does things differently but may help us think about our tradition.

      Their Holy Saturday Liturgy once began around 4pm and ended about 8pm (now done in the morning) and combined Vespers (and 15 OT readings) with the Eucharistic Liturgy of Saint Basil.

      At any Solemn Vespers there is a procession of a candle with the hymn O Gladsome Light. When Vespers is combined with Eucharist, the procession of the candle is combined with the procession of the Gospel Book (the Little Entrance that occurs in every Divine Liturgy before all the Readings, in this case the 15 OT Lessons). All the church lights are turned on.

      Once the lessons begin however the lights are turned off. In fact any time at Vespers in which lessons are read, the reader has to read them by candlelight. Maybe this was because light was expensive? Maybe these symbolize the darkness of the OT? both? I hope someone will investigate this.

      Dark vestments are worn until the Gospel when white vestments are put on. The Gospel is Matt 28: 1-20 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning…Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them. I presume this was the service at which people were baptized.

      The Paschal Liturgy begins at Midnight with the proclamation of the Gospel Mark 16: 1-8 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought sweet spices…Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment.

      This is followed by a very exuberant celebration of Matins (morning prayer) that has much of the character of our Paschal Proclamation, except that it goes on about a hour, http://www.anastasis.org.uk/pascha.htm
      followed the Liturgy of John Chyrsostom. This service would make a great Sunrise service beginning at dawn’s early light.

      Great & Holy Sabbath celebrates God’s rest from creation and Christ’s rest from the work of redemption.

  2. Yes, it is a “hymn to the candle” but the candle symbolizes Christ in many splendored ways. Symbolism is so much richer when we have to actually meditate on it a bit.

    I don’t think they ever intended the Exsultet to be a lecture…

  3. Pillar of wax – quite an earful?!
    My prefered setting of the Exsultet happens to be a delightful dialogue setting by a certain Paul Inwood with repeated acclamations of the people: “Christ is our light, Alleluia! Christ is our Lord, Alleluia! Risen in glory, Alleluia!”
    Perhaps for the sensitive soul, would it be a mortal sin to use the Inwood refrain at appropriate moments of even this Vox Clara prodigy? As long as we don’t break out in hives.
    Thanks, Paul.

    1. Thank you for the compliment, Pádraig. That setting dates back to the early 1970s, at a time when many Easter Vigil liturgies began with the Liturgy of the Word, leaving the Ceremony of Light to pave the way for the Gospel of the Resurrection. All over Europe you could find variations of this reordering of the elements of the Vigil. The rationale ran something like this: you have all that rich symbolism in the ceremony of light at the beginning, and then you say, in effect, “Let’s sit down and find out why we did all that stuff.”

      At any rate, that particular setting contains Alleluias because it was designed for use in a reordered sequence where the word Alleluia had already been sung in the Easter Alleluia Psalm after the New Testament reading.

      Today, when the majority of people have reverted to the former sequence as set out in the Missal, there are difficulties in anticipating the ‘A’-word before the Liturgy of the Word even begins.

      And the reason most people have reverted is because of the 1988 circular letter Paschale Solemnitatis. However, reading the late lamented Kenneth Stevenson’s book Jerusalem Revisited on the Holy Week liturgies, there is still room to question whether the sequence is as fixed and immutable as the CDW would like us to believe. He refers, for example, to a Vigil in which there was indeed a lucenarium at the beginning, but this was a purely functional lighting of lamps by which to see. A second, richer ceremony of light took place later, at the end of the Liturgy of the Word, and that is the ceremony which we now have right at the start.

      1. Paul, thanks for all your comments, here and below. The problem (one of the problems) with the reordering of the Vigil which you favor is the lamentable tendency to approach the vigil readings as if they take place in Lent and in the dark, which in effect disparages the Old Testament as divine revelation, and creates a situation in which the “coming of the light” serves as a dramatic illustration in a salvation history narrative leading to the Easter gospel. As I hope to show in my book, the salvation history construct that appears in the 1970 Sacramentary is not adequate to understanding the meaning and function of the lectionary readings of the Vigil. Having light burst forth after the prophecies rather exacerbates the problem today. Besides, the liturgy of Jerusalem was indeed already turning into a drama in Cyril’s day. While we may borrow the lighting of the people’s candles cheerfully, I don’t think we need to take everything from them when our tradition in the west has its own logic. It’s true that some of that logic was changed with the 1970 revision of the Triduum (white vestments throughout the Vigil, etc.) but much of this is older and makes a certain amount of sense.

      2. Thank you, Rita. I hope you will also be covering such 70s-80s variants as starting with the lighting of the Candle, listening to the readings in the light of the Candle, with Praeconium reserved for later on, in association with the Resurrection Gospel. Or the then common French practice of omitting the blessing/lighting/incensing ceremony altogether and having the service begin with the lit Paschal Candle entering a completely darkened church, accompanied by a processional song (with refrains for the assembly) that effectively replaced the Praeconium.

        Incidentally, I did not say that I am in favor of the reorderings that were trialled during the 1970s-80s. I was simply explaining to Pádraig why the setting of mine that he likes, designed for use in such a context, cannot easily be used today. I do think, though, that the question of the sequence and positioning of elements in the Vigil is not closed — even the differences between 1969 and 1955 show an evolution of thought.

    1. Does it ever stop?


      Alternatives are an inevitable and necessary feature of the Catholic Church, if it is to be universal. Removing alternatives, trying to control everything from the centre moves us ever more towards being just another sect.

      1. Too many alternatives can also move us towards a rootless mesh of personal preferences, bound nominally together by receding memory.

        There is also such a thing as false universality which, including everyone abstractly, includes no one concretely.

        I would think the justification for an alternative to so venerable a text as the Exultet would have to be quite serious–beyond a whimsical revision towards how the Easter Vigil should feel today, with the fact that this text was sufficient for many centuries just suddenly notwithstanding.

  4. The fact that the mother bee is mentioned at all is because she was thought to be an image of the blessed Virgin Mary, because bees were thought to reproduce virginally.

    There is no reason on earth to change this because bees don’t reproduce virginally. No reason on earth to change apis mater into the plural (as the text has done) because the queen bee doesn’t produce wax herself. It’s a poem, for God’s sake — not a lecture in entymology! Why we are concerned about the accurate modern science of bees but not the physiology of humans is beyond me. Mary is compared to a cabinet, but we don’t dare use poetic license concerning the habits of bees?

    Paul, this poem has been a “laus cerei” in praise of the candle since the fourth century. In the missal of 1570 it’s called the Benedictio Cerei. To try to assimilate it into the mode of the Christmas or Epiphany proclamations is wrong-headed, as I noted in the thread below. Why do this? Because a heading that was introduced into the ritual text in 1955 calls it the Praeconium Paschale? That’s ridiculous.

    It is a “eucharistia lucernaris” and as you know is composed in the form of a preface. It was treated in the rubrics as analogous to the proclamation of the gospel which is probably why the idea of “proclamation” recommended itself to the people who wrote the reform.

    1. Rita,

      Yes, I know full well that it was the laus cerei. The point I was making was that many people now think of it as the Praeconium Paschale, aided to a large extent by the 1970 translation. So my question is: now that the new version has uncovered the laus cerei aspect, are those people going to feel disappointed when they don’t find the praeconium resurrectionis dimension anymore? And if so, should we do anything about it or just let them get on with it?

      My comments about bees, on the other hand, were somewhat tongue-in-cheek…

      1. Let me rephrase that, Rita.

        I was recently surprised to hear a friend speak about parthenogenesis in the context of bee-keeping.

  5. As a “hymn to the candle” and its flame, it is blessed and becomes a sacramental of the highest ranking. Traditionally at its incensation at all Easter Masses and funerals (I’m not sure about the current rubrics) it gets three swings,three times, similar to the incensing of the Blessed Sacrament at Benediction, and one also bows to the Paschal Candle before and after incensing it.

  6. A male bee has only one parent-mother and a female bee two parents- mother and father…. If you work back through the ancestorial line from one male bee you arrive at this sequence of numbers in each generation:
    1 1 2 3 5 8 13…….. the Fibonacci Sequence where each number is the sum of the previous two numbers from whence we derive the Golden Ratio of 1:1.6
    What this adds to the present discussion I am not too sure but as the character in Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In in the late Sixties, post Vatican II, would have said
    “Very interesting…..”

    1. Good heavens, Chris.
      What is your source for this remarkable piece of trivia? I’ve not come upon it before.

  7. Fr.,

    I don’t remember using the Paschal candle at Requiems, I know we leave it lit during Mass from Easter until Ascension Thursday. After that, it pretty much disappears. But yes, when it does get incensed, it gets the royal treatment.

    The “anaphora” for the Paschal Candle is reminiscent for the Blessing of Ashes and Blessing of Palms in the traditional Rite in that they resemble (to a lesser or greater degree) a sort of “Mass” in which these items are “consecrated” at/near the altar in a specially liturgical way.


    As to what the people think, we have to take into account how close they really pay attention anyway, how much they know about it and how much they care. I would surmise that if people are really that disappointed about the Exsultet not being “resurrection oriented” enough, they had a misunderstanding of the whole thing in the first place and they probably didn’t care that much to go look it up and see the history of the whole thing to get a better understanding. A simple explanation of it would probably more that satisfy the slight annoyance they may have experienced.

    The Exultet is a gorgeous chant, the symbolism is extremely rich. I do not know why one would want to muck this up to make it some sort of hymn.

    1. Andrew, in the Tridentine usage, I don’t believe the Paschal Candle is present for Requiems, but it is in the Ordinary Form and prominently so, replacing the six candles around the casket and yes, when the body is incensed and the paschal candle is near, usually at the head of the casket, one bows and incenses it three times and then bows again when passing before it, usually at the foot of the casket. I know that the GIRM revised the number of swings when incensing during Mass. The crucifix now gets three single swings, I’m not sure about the Paschal Candle if that was revised or three triples still applies.

      1. Allan, regarding the three triples, I have never been able to find any ceremony manual pre or post Council that has ever spoken of 3 triple swings. It became a great debate in the seminary, and only Elliott resolved it. 3 doubles.

      2. I did find the new GIRM’s description of “thurification” which is a nice word for it, and now it is simply three swings for the Most Blessed Sacrament, a relic of the Holy Cross and images of the Lord exposed for public veneration, the offerings, the altar cross, the Book of the Gospels, the paschal candle,the Priest and yes Priest is capitalized, and the people (who aren’t, capitalized that is).

    2. Mr/Rev Czarnick,
      a) “reminiscent of”
      b) “how closely they pay attention,”

      Your dismissal of the issues people have with the new translation of the Exultet on grounds that the People of God don’t really care is a weak argument.

      1. Mary, I think Andrew is not commenting on all the issues people may have with the translation of the Exsultet, at least that’s not how I read him. I think his point is more narrow, in response to what Paul said about people possibly feeling cheated or dismayed that it never says “Christ is risen.”

        I myself find the translation awful and problematic in all sorts of ways, but not because it praises the candle, which Andrew has rightly pointed out is a multivalent image of Christ. Neither Paul nor Andrew has produced evidence that many people actually have a problem or not with the fact that “Christ is risen” is never said here, they’ve just said what they think might come up if one were to investigate the question.

  8. Rita,
    Thought that would inject a note of surprise!.
    Try Pgs 215-216 of the Language of Mathematics by Frank Land -Chapter 13 “The Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Section”. After years teaching Mathematics, it was always a sure way of getting attention to announce that we were going to investigate the sex life of a male bee.
    Now Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, that was something else…

    Good link Padraig! Thanks for that

  9. If the new text moves parishes to use a REAL beeswax candle, it earns a couple of brownie points from me.

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

    Granted, it’s no “Christ is risen,” but it has a certain ring to it. 🙂

    I think it might even be a good thing that there’s no reference to the resurrection standing by itself, but this one remains in the list, with the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, the crossing of the Red Sea and the death of Jesus. It resonates well with the fact that the vigil is not just the celebration of the resurrection, but a unitary celebration of the whole thing.

    1. I think where all this began is in ICEL’s rushed 1969/70 version in which line 3 ran “Jesus Christ our King is risen”, line 7 “Christ has conquered, glory fills you”, and line 10 “the risen Saviour shines upon you”, none of which appears in the Latin, but all of which sets up a different world from the one that we will now inhabit.

  11. The Resurrection of the Lord also permeates the entire Easter Vigil liturgy – right from the start in the Ordinary Form in fact. Personally, I think the use of different imagery, language, symbols and signs work very well. The subtlety and crescendo of images in the Exsultet work better.

  12. Fr Allan wrote, the Priest and yes Priest is capitalized, and the people (who aren’t, capitalized that is)

    I noticed that too, so I went to check the Latin. Here it is, from §277:

    Tribus ductibus thuribuli incensantur: Ss.mum Sacramentum, reliquia sanctae Crucis et imagines Domini publicae venerationi expositae, oblata pro Missae sacrificio, crux altaris, Evangeliarium, cereus paschalis, sacerdos et populus.

    Notice, five words are capitalised: Sacrament, Cross, Lord, Mass, Gospel.

    Liturgiam Authenticam says, at §33,

    The use of capitalization in the liturgical texts of the Latin editiones typicae as well as in the liturgical translation of the Sacred Scriptures, for honorific or otherwise theologically significant reasons, is to be retained in the vernacular language at least insofar as the structure of a given language permits.

    But maybe there is a special exception for Priests somewhere…or we could write PRIESTS or PRIESTS to make the dignity clearer…

    About those three swings (ducti): the old Catholic Encyclopaedia says “The dignity of the person or thing will determine whether the swing is to be single or double, and also whether one swing or more are to be given” and I have heard claims from followers of the Tridentine Mass that the people are only to be given one swing because of their lower dignity. At papal Masses, though, I have always seen all the ducti done as three doubles, as in the GIRM.

    Is there any authoritative source noting that a ductus in the normative rite is invariably made up of two swings?

    1. I’ve noticed O/others not following the “rubrics” for “swings of the thurible” at P/papal Masses, but the Holy Father does, H/he uses three swings, not three doubles when incensing the C/cross.

  13. This blog is simply amazing! I started this thread half-jokingly, and in less than 24 hours we’ve already got into the minutiae of ducti when incensing, the capitalization of nouns, as well as the Fibonacci Sequence and the sexual ancestry of bees!

  14. Jeffery BeBeau :
    Allan, regarding the three triples, I have never been able to find any ceremony manual pre or post Council that has ever spoken of 3 triple swings. It became a great debate in the seminary, and only Elliott resolved it. 3 doubles.

    Elliott resolved it?

    Good Lord! Elliott’s books are infamously full of opinion-dressed-up-as-fact.

    (If you check out his CEREMONIES OF THE MODERN ROMAN RITE acknowledgements section you’ll see I speak with even more authority than usual on this subject.)

  15. Don’t be too surprised Paul.
    As James Joyce said of the Catholic Church “Here comes everyone”
    Apparently Fibonacci’s nickname in school was Bigollo, which I believe translates as Blockhead

  16. In reading all of the above treads regarding bees, number of times things are incensed, etc all i kept asking myself is “are you kidding me?”. And i am a liturgist!! History and theology is important and symbols speak powerfully BUT to a point. Yes, the average person in the pew at the Easter Vigil, including the elect & candidates probably have no clue on what is going on other than taking in the light, music, scent and sights of this powerful liturgy. I believe that we must win souls to Christ which takes education and an individual commitment to Christ Himself. Us ‘professionals” discussing the “finer points” of ritual have to remind ourselves we are to witness for Christ by our words and actions. I don’t think God really cares about the # of times we swing a thurible to a THING but how we reach out to the poor and abandoned. Personally, I like the 1970 Exsultet……When we do liturgy, we all are in agreement: let’s do it well with joy, making Christ present among us!

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