Who Should Sing the Exsultet

And More on Deviations in Holy Week

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ROME, APRIL 3, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Is there a reason for a priest to sing the Exsultet even if a deacon is present who can sing it, just because the priest wants to do it himself? — L.E., Oxon Hill, Maryland

A: The rubrics in the missal state quite clearly:

«The Easter proclamation may be made, in the absence of a Deacon, by the priest himself or by another concelebrating priest. If, however, because of necessity, a lay cantor sings the proclamation, the words Therefore, dearest friends up to the end of the invitation are omitted, along with the greeting The Lord be with you.«

This rubric implies several things. One is the preference for the Exsultet to be sung. This is why, when necessary, a lay cantor can substitute a priest and deacon if they are unable to sing the proclamation.

Second, all things considered, the proper and preferred minister to sing the Exsultet is the deacon.

Therefore, a priest should not replace a sufficiently qualified deacon and certainly not just because he prefers to sing it himself.

It is always possible, however, that a particular deacon (or priest) overestimates his singing ability, and a musically literate priest realizes that a relatively difficult piece such as the Exsultet is really beyond him. He may therefore decide to sing it himself out of respect for the dignity of the most solemn celebration of the liturgical year, and also so as to save the deacon a moment of embarrassment before the entire parish community.

A blessed Easter to all!

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Follow-up: Deviations in Holy Week

In connection with deviations in the prescribed rites of the Easter triduum (see March 20), there are a range of questions regarding the washing of feet on Holy Thursday. Few rites have been subject to such confusion over the last few years regarding who and how many people can have their feet washed, who can do the washing, and whether parts of the body other than the feet may be washed. And all this mayhem about a rite that can be omitted completely!

We have written on this subject several times: on March 23, 2004, and April 6, 2004; March 28, 2006; and April 12, 2011, and May 3, 2011.

Another reader asked about a pastor who instructed the faithful to sit during the reading of the Passion.

This option is not mentioned in the official missal. I have occasionally seen it inserted as a rubric in privately published hand missals but without any apparent authority.

While an elderly person, or anybody experiencing physical difficulties, can always opt to sit if standing or kneeling is especially burdensome, I do not think it is appropriate — spiritually, legally or pastorally — to invite the whole assembly to sit during the Passion reading.

People in all age ranges seem to be able to stand in line for hours, even days, in order to buy tickets to hear the latest teenage warbler, to be present at a sports event or to be among the first to obtain the ultimate version of a gadget they probably don’t really need anyway.

Is it really too much to ask Catholics to stand for 25 minutes or so at the foot of the Cross, in the company of the Blessed Mother, and unite themselves to Christ who dies for our redemption? Is sitting really an appropriate gesture at this moment?

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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