Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Of Bees, the Exsultet, a Paschal Candle (and Pius XII)

Recently one of our priests sent in some photos with a brief note about a Paschal candle that he, himself, undertook to design for his parish. He commented to me that "in honor of the return of the bees to the Exsultet" he incorporated them into the design.

What he is referring to, of course, is the absence of the references to the bees in the former English translation of the Exsultet in the previous English edition of the OF Missal. They are back -- though they never left the Latin text itself of course. Here are the relevant parts of the newly revised and corrected English translation:

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.
The sanctifying power of this night dispels all wickedness,
washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise, this gift from your most holy Church.

But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God’s honour,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious.

These same references are, of course, to be found in the Exsultet within the usus antiquior.

At any rate, here is the design our parish priest has been working on:



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With apologies to Urban VIII and the Barberini, some might be asking themselves what all the fuss is about? There are a few angles from which this question could be addressed, but instead, I thought it would be fitting to share this address of November 27th, 1948, made by Pius XII to beekeepers on the lessons of bees for mankind. (I will give credit where it is due; this address was brought to mind when someone referenced it online recently; as it meshed nicely with the purposes of this particular post and so I could not resist quoting it in full.)

Your presence in such large numbers, your desire to assemble before Us, beloved sons, is a real comfort: and so We express our heartfelt gratitude for your homage and your gifts, both particularly pleasing to Us. Beyond its material and technical importance, the work which you represent, by its nature and significance has a psychological, moral, social, and even religious interest of no small value. Have not bees been sung almost universally in the poetry, sacred no less than profane, of all times?

Impelled and guided by instinct, a visible trace and testimony of the unseen wisdom of the Creator, what lessons do not bees give to men, who are, or should be, guided by reason, the living reflection of the divine intellect!

Bees are models of social life and activity, in which each class has its duty to perform and performs it exactly—one is almost tempted to say conscientiously—without envy, without rivalry, in the order and position assigned to each, with care and love. Even the most inexperienced observer of bee culture admires the delicacy and perfection of this work. Unlike the butterfly which flits from flower to flower out of pure caprice; unlike the wasp and the hornet, brutal aggressors, who seem intent on doing only harm with no benefit for anyone, the bee pierces to the very depths of the flower's calix diligently, adroitly, and so delicately, that once its precious treasure has been gathered, it gently leaves the flowers without having injured in the least the light texture of their garments or caused a single one of their petals the loss of its immaculate freshness.

Then, loaded down with sweet-scented nectar, pollen, and propolis, without capricious gyrations, without lazy delays, swift as an arrow, with precise, unerring, certain flight, it returns to the hive, where valorous work goes on intensely to process the riches so carefully garnered, to produce the wax and the honey. . (Virgil, , 4, 169.)

Ah, if men could and would listen to the lesson of the bees: if each one knew how to do his daily duty with order and love at the post assigned to him by Providence; if everyone knew how to enjoy, love, and use in the intimate harmony of the domestic hearth the little treasures accumulated away from home during his working day: if men, with delicacy, and to speak humanly, with elegance, and also, to speak as a Christian, with charity in their dealings with their fellow men, would only profit from the truth and the beauty conceived in their minds, from the nobility and goodness carried about in the intimate depths of their hearts, without offending by indiscretion and stupidity, without soiling the purity of their thought and their love, if they only knew how to assimilate without jealousy and pride the riches acquired by contact with their brothers and to develop them in their turn by reflection and the work of their own minds and hearts; if, in a word, they learned to do by intelligence and wisdom what bees do by instinct—how much better the world would be!

Working like bees with order and peace, men would learn to enjoy and have others enjoy the fruit of their labors, the honey and the was, the sweetness and the light in this life here below.

Instead, how often, alas, they spoil the better and more beautiful things by their harshness, violence, and malice: how often they seek and find in every thing only imperfection and evil, and misinterpreting even the most honest intentions, turn goodness into bitterness!

Let them learn therefore to enter with respect, trust, and charity into the minds and hearts of their fellow men discreetly but deeply; then they like the bees will know how to discover in the humblest souls the perfume of nobility and of eminent virtue, sometimes unknown even to those who possess it. They will learn to discern in the depths of the most obtuse intelligence, of the most uneducated persons, in the depths even of the minds of their enemies, at least some trace of healthy judgment, some glimmer of truth and goodness.

As for you, beloved sons, who while bending over your beehives perform with all care the most varied and delicate work for your bees, let your spirits rise in mystic flight to experience the kindness of God, to taste the sweetness of His word and His law (Ps. 18:11; 118: 103), to contemplate the divine light symbolized by the burning flame of the candle, product of the mother bee, as the Church sings in her admirable liturgy of Holy Saturday: . (For it is nourished by the melting wax, which the mother bee produced for the substance of this precious light.)

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The Arms of the Barberini Pope, Urban VIII