As I listened to the Exsultet and the Vigil on Saturday night and again to the lovely version linked to by bls, I’m struck again by what I often find when I dip into antiphons, responsaries, and many of the minor propers for feasts: they are modeling devices. That is, the way that they relate the Scriptures to one another is deliberate and intentional. I haven’t done a full enough study to say that it’s consistent.
What’s going on here is that the early medieval church in the West set up a cycle—perhaps curated is a better word—a liturgical cycle. At some point. McKinnon sets a significant part of this activity (at least for the Mass) in the late 7th century and since his book folks have been debating as to whether or not he was right.
In any case, they connected together pieces of Scripture that they thought fit, and wrote texts like the Exsultet that laid out how they understood theology and therefore the ways that Scripture ties together. Their understandings of what was normal and proper and fitting are grounded in the patristic material that they absorbed and from the ecclesial perspectives that they brought to it. When these texts are sung together by later generations, the connections are made and reinforced even if they are not expounded. That is, simply from singing the Mass year after year, connections between various biblical texts get made because of how they function liturgically. As a result, texts like the Exsultet and the way that the propers hang together both encode and transmit a very particular set of understandings about biblical interpretation and how it’s properly done. Modern Roman and Anglican congregations that are rediscovering the minor propers are moving back into a stream of transmission that has patterned the Western Church’s encounter with Scripture over centuries.
The Historic Western Liturgy itself transmits a patristically-grounded early medieval method for reading and praying Scripture.
Perhaps some day I’ll have the time to line things up properly and make a thorough study of all of this…