Easter Vigil / Exodus Canticle

I recently received a query from a friend, who said this:

I had a very disturbing discussion with my (new) Pastor regarding the Easter Vigil.  In this discussion he asked my opinion on celebrating the Easter Vigil this year using a period of silence after each of the readings and omitting the Psalms. 

The Roman Missal includes a single reference to a period of solemn silence after the readings and omitting the Psalms (page 364, para 23).  However, the same section (Liturgy of the Word) includes nine (9) citations where singing the Psalms is explicitly referenced in the instructing paragraphs (pages 364-367, paras 21, 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31). 

 Are you aware of any other guidance or supporting documentation to suggest omitting the Psalms is normative/desired? 

Have you ever been a participant at an Easter Vigil that omitted the Psalms?

Here is an edited version of my reply:

The norm is to have all seven OT readings, with each reading being followed by a psalm or canticle and a psalm prayer. That seems clear from the documents.

However, for pastoral reasons, it is permitted to omit some of the readings (except for the 3rd Reading). People used to do this a lot, and for a while only having three OT readings became the usual practice. This was done in order to make the service not unduly long, and to avoid any possible tedium with such an extended sequence of readings and psalms. Then people started to realize that there was a loss of richness, and today five readings is much more common, with some places having all seven.

The provision to have a period of “sacred silence” in place of the responsorial psalm is likewise a pastoral provision, but with a different purpose. Yes, there may be a time-saving element, but the primary reason is to assist those places whose musical resources are limited (as other new rubrics in the Triduum attest). The musicians may not easily be able to put on so much music, and in any case it could be better to have less music done well, rather than more music done to an inadequate standard. But the provision is not intended as one option with equal weight.

When I encounter musicians who are of limited attainments, I suggest to them that they might have silence instead of some but not all of the psalms. So, if there are five readings, they might sing the psalm after Readings 1, 3 and 5, and have silence after Readings 2 and 4. In your case, not lacking in resources, there is no real reason for limiting the amount of work you have to do. I wonder if your new pastor simply doesn’t like music, or perhaps doesn’t like your sort of music.

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I also want to alert you to a significant error in the US Lectionary. The powers-that-be have known about this for many years but have not so far done anything about it. (I queried then-Fr James Moroney, Executive Director at the USCCB’s Secretariat for Liturgy, about this error in the late 1990s, and he acknowledged that it was indeed incorrect.) Here is the error:

As currently published, the US Lectionary for the end of the 3rd Reading at the Vigil has this:

>>> 

…they feared the LORD and believed in him and in his servant Moses.

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD:
I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;
horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.

Responsorial Psalm  EX 15:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 17-18

R. (1b) Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.
I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;….

<<< 

But this is not what is in the Latin, nor in any other lectionary that I have encountered around the world, including other English-language lectionaries (for example, the British Isles + Australia edition). What the US Lectionary should have is this:

>>> 

they feared the LORD and believed in him and in his servant Moses.

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD:

The choir takes up the Responsorial Psalm immediately.

Responsorial Psalm  EX 15:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 17-18

R. (1b) Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.
I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;

<<< 

In other words, not only are there two redundant lines at the end of the reading, but the rubric which says that the choir sings the Exodus canticle (so no possibility of silence here) has been omitted as well. The reading should end with Ex 15:1a, while the canticle begins at Ex 15:1b. Countless US parishes have therefore unwittingly been getting this wrong every year since 1970! Perhaps, in this 50th anniversary year of our current Lectionary in the English vernacular, we might at last think about making amends.

9 comments

    1. Yes, in Canada the reading ends (correctly) at Ex. 15, v.1a and the Canticle begins immediately.

      On the main question, the omission of Responsorial Psalms, this smacks of the bad habit of liturgical minimalism. What was this priest taught in the seminary?

  1. I should perhaps have clarified that what this also means that there is no “The Word of the Lord — Thanks be to God” at the end of the Exodus reading. The canticle follows immediately, following on from the final line of the reading.

    1. Indeed.
      At ours the Exodus reader also sings the psalm so the one follows the other seamlessly, with just the playing over of the response acting as a comma.

  2. We do all the readings. After 2 readings we utilize a period of silence. The exodus reading it not recited, it is sung with acclamations at various points in the proclamation. This is always well done and one of the musical highlights of the vigil.

  3. Of course, it’s a shame that verses 20-21 are chopped out.
    And as I recall from my Pentateuch class, scholars believe some early scribes took some liberties moving those verses conveniently to the end.

    20 Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, while all the women went out after her with tambourines, dancing;
    21 and she responded to them:
    “Sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;
    horse and chariot he has cast into the sea .”

    It is a little, too conveniently, like verse 1.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the lectionary said:
    Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, while all the women went out after her with tambourines, dancing; and they sang this song to the LORD:

    The choir takes up the Responsorial Psalm immediately.

  4. At the Basilica of Saint Lawrence in Asheville, NC, we had fixed this problem of the English language lectionary . . . for some years we celebrated the Easter Vigil bi-lingually with all the readings. The third reading was always in Spanish . . . and the choir began the salmo responsorial immediately:

    ¡Carroza y caballo arrojó al mar! (2v)

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