At a house blessing last autumn, my friend the priest asked me if I composed music. I replied in the affirmative, with the caveat that I have no formal or professional training in music. My background is mainly in the contemporary folk genre. But that didn’t seem to bother him. He has been looking for someone who could produce a lively, participatory musical setting for the Exsultet, to be sung at this year’s Easter Vigil in his parish. By the end of the night, the priest and I were crowded around the family’s dining room table with the deacon, laying out preliminary ideas for this new piece.
For those who may not be familiar, the Exsultet forms the bulk of the Lucernarium (Service of Light) that begins the Great Vigil of Easter, sometime between sunset and sunrise on Easter Sunday. It is an ancient chant, in which the priest and people of the parish dedicate and light a new Paschal Candle each year.
This part of the service is haunting and beautiful. In the midst of a completely dark church, the Light of Christ burns brightly. It is the first spark of resurrection as the power of death begins to come undone. My favorite part is when the candle passes through the columbarium in procession. I imagine the eyes of the dead following the light as it goes by… waiting.
When the procession reaches the front of the church, the deacon dedicates the new Paschal Candle by chanting the Exsultet and the celebration of Easter begins.
I am happy to report that I have finished my work on this piece in time for it to be used in the Easter Vigil at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Kalamazoo. The simple tones composed for this setting alternate between exuberant and mysterious. They include several original refrains for congregational participation.
While this piece has been composed for and dedicated to the people of St. Luke’s, I am making it available for free to all congregations who would like to make use of it. Blanket permission is granted to make as many copies as necessary for use by congregations or choirs. I ask only that credit (for the music and refrains) be given somewhere in the bulletin. The text of the verses is taken directly out of the Book of Common Prayer, which is already in the public domain.
The .pdf file can be downloaded by clicking below:
Exsultet (St. Luke’s Setting)
I am grateful to Fr. Randall Warren and the community of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church for this opportunity to offer something of beauty to the liturgical life of the parish. I hope this piece serves to make their Easter celebration (and yours) very special.
J. Barrett Lee