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Unrolling the Paschal Mystery

Source: Anthony Majanlahti on Flickr
A bee inlaid into the base of one of the internal columns in the Lateran baptistery.

Shawn Tribe at Liturgical Arts Journal recalls the medieval use of the “Exsultet roll” by the deacon when singing the praises of the Paschal Candle—and the bees who helped make it—at the Easter Vigil. Even if not in use today (but why couldn’t it be?), these rolls are a reminder of how even books are a beautiful element of the liturgy’s sacramental tapestry. He writes:

Exsultet rolls were long scrolls of parchment utilized exclusively in southern Italy (so far as we know) in the Middle Ages. These scrolls contained the texts and chants of the Exsultet accompanied by various decorative illuminations related to the contents of the same. But why a scroll you may ask? In liturgical practice this scroll would be unrolled by the deacon as he sang the Exsultet from it, allowing it to unroll over the ambo as he did so, thereby permitting the faithful to see the related iconography as he sang the liturgical text which corresponded to it.

Continue reading, and seeing example of the roll, here.


Christopher Carstens

Christopher Carstens

Christopher Carstens is Director of the Office for Sacred Worship in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, a visiting faculty member at the Liturgical Institute at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, and one of the voices on The Liturgy Guys podcast. He is author of A Devotional Journey into the Mass (Sophia) and, along with Father Douglas Martis, the co-author of Mystical Body, Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass (Liturgy Training Publications).