30 March 2024

EXSULTET: the Bee (2)

ICEL: ... 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. ... for it is fed by melting wax drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious.

S Pius V: ... suscipe sancte Pater, incensi huius sacrificium vespertinum, quod tibi in hac Cerei oblatione solemni, per ministrorum manus, de operibus apum sacrosancta reddit Ecclesia. ... in hac cerei oblatione solemni, per ministrorum manus, de opere apum sacrosancta reddit Ecclesia ... Alitur enim liquantibus ceris, quas in substantiam pretiosi huius lampadis, apis mater eduxit.

Knox: ... accept , O Holy Father, this our evening sacrifice of incense: which as at this time thy holy Church maketh before thee, and offereth to thee by the hands of thy servants, the works of the creatures which thou hast made ... For the wax that melteth doth but feed the flame, for thereunto have the creatures of God's hand brought it forth ...

Ordinariate: ... accept, O Holy Father, this our evening sacrifice of incense, which as at this time thy holy Church maketh before thee, and offereth to thee by the hands of thy servants, the work of the bees, thy creatures. ... For the wax that melteth doth but feed the flame, for thereunto have the creatures of God's hand brought it forth ...

 A careful eye might observe here a recurring embarrassment with the presence of the Bees. And that Eye would be right.

But, in fact, once upon a time the bees were even busier in the Exsultet. They had an entire paragraph to themselves. It came immediately after the point where, in the S Pius V text, we have the words  mater eduxit. (This paragraph had already fallen into disuse when the Sarum Missal was printed; but it had appeared in Praefatio hucusque of the 'Gregorianum'.)

Some have used the term 'curious' to describe this extra, apian, material. I don't agree. If you are blessing Olives, you naturally include a bit of back-history about Olives in your liturgical formulae.Why deny it to the bees who produced the wax?

Not that the Latin texts address plural bees; we read 'apis mater'. "O vere beata et mirabilis apis'. But I think these are collective and dignified singulars: the activities of The Bee are certainly described in the plural. We learn that some (parte) collect flosculi with their mouths and return with these burdens to their castra; in there, aliae line the cells with gluten: aliae cram in the flowing honey; aliae turn the flowers into wax; aliae shape their offspring with their mouths; aliae includunt nectar.

This might easily prompt suggestions that Bees can offer us an example of hard work and collaborative ministry within the Church. Perhaps they can, the poppets. But the texts go on to ... er ... praise Virginity! This is because it was a commonly held belief that Bees perpetuated their race without masculi violating their sex or filii destroying their chastity.

Although the Queen Bee is indeed ... um ... versatile, this theory is not now, in its entirety, maintained! Perhaps this accounts for the textual difficulties many have discerned within this passage. But the pericope does end Thus did the holy Virgin Mary conceive; Virgin she gave birth; and Virgin she remained.

Some have detected the malign influence of Vergil at work here. I'm not so sure. Much of Georgics IV is indeed on Bee-Keeping, but it is really mock-didactic. I think Vergil comes closest to the Exsultet in his 'epic' similes (e.g. Aeneid 6: 707sqq.) But perhaps Apollonius of Rhodes got there first (despite Iliad B 87 sqq). The Argonauts have been consorting with the Man-murdering Men-crazed Women of Lemnos ... until Heracles (friend of Hylas!) speaks strictly to them. As the Fleece-Seekers prepare to sail off, the Lemnian women flock enthusiatically and affectionately around their departing lovers. They are like bees pouring out of their hollow rock into the meadows and in clusters flying to the sping-time flowers. This is very much in the spirit of what the Exsultet  bees do cum canitiem pruinosa hiberna posuerint, et glaciale senium verni temporis moderata [= moderatio?] deterserint ...

But, when it comes to it, I doubt whether the Author of the Exsultet was very much concerned with the views on Reincarnation of an Augustan Roman; or the naughty tongue-in-the-cheek slapstick of a Ptolemaic Alexandrian. My instinct about those Christian centuries is that writers might make their own use of any thaumata, wonders, that suited their book(s). A sound instinct!

O vere beata et mirabilis apis!


George Lee said...

The Ne Plus Ultra of Exultets:


Titus said...

Oddly enough, (female) worker be can indeed reproduce asexually, though they don't lay eggs in healthy colonies. Bee genetics are quite unlike the norm we learned from Fr. Mendel's squares.

Rubricarius said...

I wonder if biological metaphors can be taken too far? Worker bees, the majority of the colony, do indeed remain virgins and do all the work. However, in certain circumstances workers can become egg-laying queens. Male bees, drones, only have a mother - the queen, and no father although they do have grandparents. Drones pay a very bitter price for having sex!