Chant: Easter Again

Chant Exsultet Easter

“When a prayer or a psalm or a passage from the Gospels is chanted, we hear the words again. We hear them in a new way. We remember that they are not only meaning but music and mystery. The chanting italicizes them. The prose becomes poetry. The prosaic becomes powerful.”  Frederick Buechner,  Originally published in Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner quote of the Day,  October 8, 2017


Buechner reminds us about using this ancient voice in praising and praying to God and speaking to each other.  It is changing the way we address God and each other. The words become notes. The message we chant sounds different. The sounds of chant are soothing, comforting. The music takes us to another place. The sounds open our world to another dimension. Chanting slows down the words of the message. The squirrels running in the cage in our head slow down and become a bit quieter.

The chant that deacon’s most often sing is the Exsultet which follows bringing the newly lighted Christ candle back into the church at the Easter Vigil. Even before Lent begins, this music becomes part of my body even if I am not the deacon designated to sing this lengthy canticle.  Jason Pennington, the music director at one of my previous churches, describes the Exsultet as “one of the most difficult chants of the Church’s treasury of song, sung  at the opening of the Great Vigil, at the culmination of the events of the holy triduum as all of the congregation is holding their candles in the shadow of the one Paschal, the choir not yet allowed into the stalls, standing in the nave with the faithful as that most beautiful of canticles is intoned, the Exsultet, promising us all the immeasurable gift of salvation.”   

I keep a note from Jason from our last Easter together when I was having some mobility issues and standing for a length of time was more difficult. “She was facing excruciating physical pain to stand for the lengthy canticle as she drew each breath to acclaim its message of life.  She paced it well, taking her time and savoring every single phrase as if it were the very first. This was a beautiful gift of ministry, a Holy Spirit gift that put ministry before self. And isn't that exactly the lesson to have been learned at the Mandatum not two nights before: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you should love one another.’  Joanna's lovely, quiet chanting voice was tremulous with pain, yet was filled with joy. This was Easter.”

I keep Jason’s note to help remind me and others that chanting is always an offering, not a performance.