Several videos on YouTube are claiming that Pope Francis has praised Lucifer as God, just as several YouTube videos claimed the same about Pope Benedict XVI during his pontificate. In fact, as the theory goes, this is a Vatican-wide (or Catholic Church wide) conspiracy to praise Satan during the Easter Vigil. Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about:
These videos are troublingly popular: this video alone has about 1.4 million views so far. And the case for the conspiracy is pretty clear: the pope and a huge group of Catholics, including many Cardinals, are praying a prayer that clearly uses the word “lucifer.”
But on the other hand, does the theory make even a little bit of sense? Not really. It’s ridiculous enough to believe that the pope and the College of Cardinals are all secretly Satanists. It’s a lot more ridiculous to think that they’re openly Satanists, pledging allegiance to Lucifer every Easter on live TV. And it’s still more ridiculous to think that they do all of this, and that nobody else around the world except a few anonymous YouTube cranks notices or cares. Are we seriously to believe that the pope gets up each year, does a little “hail Satan!” prayer with all of the leaders of the Catholic Church, at the Easter Vigil, during a widely-viewed live television broadcast watched all around the globe…. and nobody notices? Nobody within the Vatican was like, “Oh no, this will reveal our super-secret Satanism plan!” Nobody at any newspaper was like, “Hey, the pope worships Satan, I wonder if that’s news?” And that this happens every year?
But this theory isn’t just insane (and insanely stupid), it’s also uncharitable. A basic starting point for understanding people who disagree with you is to assume that they’re seeking goodness and truth. So much of the modern acrimony (political and religious, especially) is based upon a failure to observe this basic rule. Now, obviously, there are people who are just wicked: they’re not just mistaken or wrong, but evil. But you don’t start by assuming everyone you meet or everyone who disagrees with you is in this category.
So what’s the true story behind this video? What you’re seeing is part of a prayer called the Exsultet, prayed each year at the Easter Vigil to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. During the lighting of the Easter candle, we pray::
Flammas eius lúcifer matutínus invéniat:
May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star:
When properly translated (unlike in the conspiracy videos), it’s clear that the “Lucifer” in question is Jesus Christ. But why call Him that? Because “Lucifer” literally means “light-bearer” (lux is “light,” as you may know from fiat lux, “let there be light”) and it was the term used for the morning star. Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon explains:
This naturally raises two questions. Why do we use the term “Lucifer” as a personal name for Satan? And why is Christ called “Lucifer” in the Exultet? Scripture holds the key to answering both questions.
First, look to Isaiah 14:12-14:
“How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will make myself like the Most High.’
On its face, this is about the King of Babylon, but it’s not hard to see the subtext: that it’s also about the fall of Satan, who tried to hoist himself above the Lord God. This is made clearer in light of the New Testament, in which Christ says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). And since the Latin Vulgate translates “Day Star” as “Lucifer,” it’s how that title for the devil came about.
But what about for Christ? Just look at Revelation 22:16,
“I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star.”
Interestingly, the Vulgate doesn’t use lucifer here, but stella splendida et matutina, but the meaning is the same. Both Jesus and the devil are referred to as morning stars. (The Protestant site GotQuestions notes this oddity, but also that it’s not unique: both are also compared to lions, cf. 1 Peter 5:8 and Rev. 5:5, etc.). In the broader Scriptural context, this makes sense. Christ is the Light (John 1:4-9), humanity’s “dayspring” (Luke 1:78). As a fallen angel, Satan once bore witness to that light before turning to darkness. Ironically, Christ alone truly warrants being called a lucifer or “light-bearer”: the devil forfeited this by turning away from the light. But in a quirk of history, based largely on the Latin Vulgate (in language that the KJV borrowed), “Lucifer” became associated with the devil as a common name.
So there you go: the Exultet is an ancient prayer (likely dating back to at least the sixth century), back before we mistakenly started treating “Lucifer” as a proper name for the devil. Perhaps it’s not as exciting as a billion-person Satanist conspiracy, but it’s a lot truer.