Chant Exsultet Easter Again

Chant Exsultet Easter

“Chant calls us out of chronological time, in which ‘now’ can never be located, and into the eternal now, which is not really found in time.” —David Steindl-Rast in The Music of Silence: Entering the Sacred Space of Monastic Experience (HarperOne, 1995).


David Steindl-Rast reminds us that when we use this ancient voice in praising and praying to God and speaking to each other we are standing in the presence of ancient angel choirs. We are 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 and another time. The sounds open our world to a new 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. Sometimes time seems to stand still, and we feel at peace. We are home.

The chant that deacons most often sing is the Exsultet, which follows bringing the newly lighted Christ candle back into the church at the Easter Vigil. Well 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, never a performance.


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