The Exsultet: Kids, Fire, and Mission

Brad Bursa

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It always happens while I’m trying to prevent my kids from catching themselves (or each other...or the person next to them) on fire. Yes, I am speaking about The Exsultet. The Exsultet, or Easter Proclamation, is sung at the Easter Vigil after the slow procession of the paschal candle into the pitch-black church.

Because I’m usually preoccupied during this time, I like to return to the text of The Exultet after the Vigil. This year I was struck by the refrain that appears five times right in the middle of the exaltation: “This is the night.” As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of all of us who minister to the youth throughout the Archdiocese:

 

This is the night,

when once you led our forebears, Israel's children,

from slavery in Egypt

and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.

 

This is the night

that with a pillar of fire

banished the darkness of sin.

 

This is the night

that even now, throughout the world,

sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices

and from the gloom of sin,

leading them to grace

and joining them to his holy ones.

 

This is the night,

when Christ broke the prison-bars of death

and rose victorious from the underworld.

 

 

This is the night

of which it is written:

The night shall be as bright as day,

dazzling is the night for me,

and full of gladness.

 

Throughout this past year, I have been able to meet with many of you and minister alongside many others. For all of us, there have been times of joy and consolation, but there have also been many times of frustration, desolation, and even discouragement. I know from my own experience in the parish, and in my ongoing volunteer youth ministry work, there is difficulty connecting with teens, gaining parent support, finding volunteers, balancing the responsibilities, fending off doubts, and being faithful to one’s vocation in the midst of ministry. Many of my conversations and times in prayer with you this year lead me to believe I’m not alone. And we know what are youth and their families are up against. In many ways, we could say: This is the night. We’re in it, and sometimes it seems like Jesus continues to sleep through the storm.

Then we have The Exsultet.

The Exsultet reminds us that God is, that God has spoken, and that God continues to speak, and continues to lead captives to freedom, to break the bonds of sin and addiction, to break into places of isolation and woundedness. God’s light still breaks through the darkest nights so they are night no more. Jesus lives and Jesus reigns.

Jesus invites us to join with him in this mission of breaking into the night that lies in the hearts of so many youth: to be light and to be a presence. We need him to continue to break into the darkness that resides in our own hearts that we might be transfigured by him and and through him, and join with him more and more generously in this mission. The Exsultet reminds us that we do not need to be afraid; He is already here. We just need to be taken up into the flame of his charity.

“Do not be afraid to go out into the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the good news of salvation in the city squares, towns, and villages. This is not time to be ashamed of the gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in modern “metropolis.” It is you who must go out into the by-rounds and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It is has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to the Heavenly Father.”  -St. John Paul II