Easter and the Bees

One of the items of the Easter Vigil that frequently gets lots of attention are the mentions of the bees in the Exsultet. The reference in question can be found in these two stanzas:
O holy Father, the evening sacrifice of this incense,
which holy Church renders to Thee
by the hands of Thy ministers
in the solemn offering of this wax candle,
made out of the work of bees.

Now also we know the praises of this pillar,
which the shining fire enkindles to the honour of God.
Which fire, although divided into parts,
suffers no loss from its light being borrowed.
For it is nourished by the melting wax,
which the mother bee produced
for the substance of this precious light.
Here is another translation below, taken from Knott's English Missal, which Fr. John Hunwicke famously called the "finest vernacular liturgical book ever produced."
Therefore in this night of grace, O holy Father,
the evening sacrifice of this incense;
which, by the hands of thy ministers,
holy Church doth lay before thee
in the solemn offering of this Candle,
made from the work of bees.

But we already know the praises of this pillar,
which for the honour of God
the sparkling fire doth kindle.
Which, though it be divided into parts,
suffereth not the loss by borrowing of its light.
For it is fed by the melting wax,
which bee the mother hath wrought into
the substance of this precious Candle.
Finally, the original Latin text take from the Missale Romanum:
In huius ígitur noctis grátia, súscipe, sancte Pater,
laudis huius sacrifícium vespertínum,
quod tibi in hac cérei oblatióne solémni,
per ministrórum manus de opéribus apum,
sacrosáncta reddit Ecclésia.

Sed iam colúmnæ huius præcónia nóvimus,
quam in honórem Dei rútilans ignis accéndit.
Qui, lícet sit divísus in partes,
mutuáti tamen lúminis detrimenta non novit.
Alitur enim liquántibus ceris,
quas in substántiam pretiósæ huius lámpadis
apis mater edúxit.
This reference to bees frequently captures a great deal popular interest, perhaps in part because of the intimate sense of communion it highlights between the natural and supernatural world. Indeed, this connection is emphasized at other times of the liturgical year such as the Ember Days (quattuor tempora) which are attached to the four seasons.

Back to the bees however, in an address made in 1948 to beekeepers, Pope Pius XII emphasized that "bees are models of social life and activity, in which each class has its duty to perform and performs it exactly... without envy, without rivalry, in the order and proposition assigned to each, with care and love.  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, Georgics, IV, 169.)" 

Bees have long held a notable place in Christian history for their particular virtues and attributes, so it should come as little surprise that it should take such a prominent place in a key liturgical text on the most solemn time of the liturgical year. 

Pope Benedict XVI wearing a chasuble adorned with gold embroidered bees.

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