Pope Francis celebrates the Easter Vigil in 2017
AP Photo/Andrew Medichini
I've been coming across a bunch of discussions among New Protestant Christians in which Pope Francis is being accused of having invoked "Lucifer" at the Easter Vigil this year. The accusations are of course backed up with video since almost everything that the Pope does is televised by the Vatican.
This was interesting to me because, as is the case with a lot of things that I find interesting, I didn't see it coming at all. Never thought I'd need to explain something like this. Never thought anyone would use this against us. But here I am.
To begin with, it wasn't Pope Francis who did this, it was a deacon. That's kind of your first glaring error in the claim. It also isn't something that only happened at Saint Peter's and it wasn't just this year. It's called the Exultet or "Easter Proclamation" and it has happened at every Catholic Church at every Easter Vigil since the late 200s A.D. The Easter Vigil is the most important feast of the entire Catholic Liturgical cycle and, for many Catholics, hearing the Exultet is one of the major highlights of their year.
The accusation about invoking "Lucifer" seems to come from a poor understanding of this line in the Exultet:
"Flammas eius lúcifer matutínus invéniat:
ille, inquam, lúcifer, qui nescit occásum.
Christus Fílius tuus"
So let's go to school...
One of the first things you have to come to grips with if you really want to understand the Bible is that the words and phrases that we tend to get hung up on when reading it really don't appear in the original text and usually don't mean what they seem to at face value. It's really difficult sometimes to actually find one-to-one translations of words in different languages, which means that literally every sentence you read probably means something a little more complex than what it seems to say. It's not always the case, but it is often the case.
On that line of thinking, the word "Lucifer" doesn't actually appear in scripture. The word that is translated as "lucifer" in the Latin Vulgate, and later as "Lucifer" in the King James Version, actually appeared originally as the Hebrew word הֵילֵל. It is transliterated as Heylel. This word appears once in the Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint uses the Greek word ἑωσφόρος, which transliterates to heōsphoros, meaning "bringer of dawn." For this reason, you won't find any modern English Translation worth its salt that translates this word as lucifer and certainly not as the proper name, Lucifer.
The use of the word Lucifer as a proper name in the King James Version of the Bible comes from the fact that it was translated (poorly, I might add) directly from the Latin Vulgate, that is, the Catholic Church's Latin translation of the 73 books that were canonized as the Bible in 382 A.D. at the Council of Rome. In Latin, the word used for the Hebrew הֵילֵל and the Greek ἑωσφόρος is lucifer.
Here is where things ought to get interesting for our accusers.
The word lucifer appears four times in the Latin translation of the Bible, but the Hebrew word הֵילֵל only appears once. What does that tell you? It should tell you that the Latin word lucifer had more uses at the time of the Vulgate's production than just to describe this one figure that was mentioned in Isaiah 14:12. The word Lucifer can refer to the moon, the Planet Venus, day, dawn or signs of the zodiac. Stranger still, the passage refers to King Nebuchadnezzar... not Satan.
In the Latin translation of Revelation 22:16, Jesus Christ literally refers to himself as "lucifer:"
“I, Jesus, sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star.”
The line of the Exultet that is being used to accuse us of invoking Satan is literally a reference to the above quoted line from scripture. It is a curiosity to me that those who insist that Lucifer is always a reference to Satan, when it has never been used as such in scripture, have not also preserved it as a reference to Jesus, who seems to have used it to describe himself directly.
In none of its Biblical appearances in the Catholic Latin Vulgate is the word lucifer ever presented as a proper name as it is presented in the King James Translation. It tends only to be popular culture and adherents to a "King James Only" approach to the concept of scripture that promulgate this idea that lucifer is exclusively used as a name for Satan. That isn't to say that lucifer was never used as a proper name in history. In fact, at least two Catholic Bishops were named Lucifer. One being Saint Lucifer of Cagliari, who died in 370 A.D., and one being Lucifer of Siena, who was appointed first bishop of Siena in 306 A.D. Hardly indicative of a culture that thought the word lucifer only referred to Satan.
So was Satan invoked at the Easter Vigil?
No. The Latin word lucifer was invoked as a descriptor for Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, the Light Bringer, The Dawn, The Light of the World whom we have invoked since the foundation of His Church and will invoke without ceasing for all time.
"May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death's domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.