The Iconography of the Felix Culpa
Haines, Victor Y.
Florilegium, vol.1 (1979)
It is still some hours before dawn. In the dark church the congregation assembles for the crowning moment of the Christian year. The Easter liturgy of the mediaeval Church is beginning. In the churchyard outside a small group looks on as a fire is truck from a flint to light a flame. At the church door the priests take up their place to receive the new flame, which is blessed in remembrance of the pillar of fire that led Moses out of Egypt, of the light of the world, and of the eternal glory of heaven. The flame is used to ignite the paschal candle, which moves to the front of the church in procession. The light from this candle breaks the darkness like the new light from the risen Christ. The deacon begins to chant the Exultet: “Exultet iam angelica turba . . . .” In the hymn he proclaims this night as the night our fathers were led out of Egypt. This is the night the pillar of fire dispelled the darkness of sin. This is the night in which Christians, separated from the murk of sin, are restored to grace. This holy night dispels all evil. Let this Easter candle mingle with the lights of heaven to dispel the darkness of this night. At the climax of the hymn, in the midst of such exalted paradoxes he exclaims: O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum est! O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem! This is the liturgical source for the doctrine of the felix culpa as it is still celebrated in the Catholic Church, although the Latin has been replaced by the vernacular