Easter Liturgy Q&A: Holy Oils and Singing the Exsultet

Q. What is the appropriate time for the reception of the Holy Oils?  One church in this parish has traditionally received the Oils on Holy Thursday before the commencement of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  At the other church, they prefer to receive the oils prior to the commencement of the Entrance Procession. The Missal doesn’t seem to give us any pointers. 

A. The only mention of a Rite of Reception of the Holy Oils in the Missal is a rubric at the end of the Chrism Mass which says: “The reception of the Holy Oils may take place in individual parishes either before the celebration of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper or at another time that seems more appropriate.”

So there is nothing set down about having such a rite although it does seem to be common practice to include it in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. It is important not to overshadow the special features of this Mass, which are the Washing of the Feet and the Transfer of the Most Blessed Sacrament, so a simple ritual during the Introductory Rites probably works best.

At http://old.usccb.org/liturgy/holyoils.shtml there is a statement about - and a form of wording for - the Reception of the Holy Oils from the US bishops Committee on Divine Worship which you might find helpful.

Q. Where can we get a copy of the music and revised text for the Exsultet?

A. I have had several phonecalls and emails about this. Like all the texts, the wording of the Easter Proclamation, or Exsultet (the opening word in Latin by which it is more commonly known), in the revised Roman Missal is different from the one that people have been using for 40 years or so. Longer and shorter forms are still provided with the latter, the one usually used, containing eighty percent of the text of the longer version.

Unfortunately, some parishes succumbed in the past to the temptation of using paraphrased versions or substituting a hymn for the Exsultet. No hymn known does justice to this powerful text! The need to find a new setting offers parishes the opportunity to put best practice in place, and there is no better musical setting for the Exsultet than the Gregorian melody found in the Missal. In any case, there do not seem to be any alternatives available at present.

The Exsultet is long and challenging and needs to be proclaimed well if it is to be prayed well, so it is important that parishes find someone who is prepared to spend time working on the chant. There are several websites which enable those who will chant the Exsultet the opportunity to listen to the text sung and to practise it:

A practice recording on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyEAsiDjFP4
An audio recording from the Chant Café at http://www.chantcafe.com/2011/04/audio-recording-of-exultet.html
PDF music and MP3 recording provided by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians at http://www.npm.org/Chants/proper.html (go to Chants of The Roman Missal, The Proper of Time, “The Paschal Proclamation”). 

For more information about the nature and structure of the Exsultet, see the Music Column in the December 2012 issue of the Liturgy Brisbane quarterly journal “Liturgy News”.


Elizabeth Harrington