Can you believe Lent is almost here? Ash Wednesday is on February 22nd. Lent is a penitential season marked by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – all with the goal of preparing our hearts and ourselves for Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday (April 6th this year).
It’s also a season of making sacrifices, repenting, and focusing on living out the Gospel. The “stripping away” of so many things during Lent (like abstaining from meat on Fridays) is meant to build self-discipline and help us focus on the inner conversion of the heart we’re called to have. That “stripping away” extends to what we see and hear at Mass during Lent too.
Decorations are simplified, vestment colors change to purple on most Sundays to mark the more solemn character of the season, and we experience changes in the music and prayers we sing at Mass. For example, we don’t sing the “Glory to God” at the beginning of Mass during Lent nor do we sing the “Alleluia” after the 2nd reading (except for a few small exceptions). Why is that? Because by stripping those away, the Church joins Moses and the Israelites as they wander in the desert in exile. It’s a time of sacrifice and purification. Prayers of “high praise” like the Glory to God and Alleluia are omitted.
Other musical changes you’ll hear include the “Holy, Holy,” “We Proclaim Your Death,” “Amen,” and “Lamb of God” acclamations that we sing before communion. During Lent, we will sing acapella (unaccompanied) versions of those prayers – some in English and some in Latin. We’ll also sing the “Kyrie” (Greek version of the “Lord Have Mercy”) before Mass. Why? Because the Church has specific instructions for Lent in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). GIRM #313, for example, says, “In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed only to support the singing. Exceptions are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), solemnities, and feasts.” You’ll hear us pull back a bit on the drums and other instruments during Lent in order to give our voices more prominence at Mass. We’ll also incorporate more silence into the Mass (no instrumental-only music, for example, at times we’d typically have that). Additionally, #41 in the GIRM says, “All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy.”
There are several ways to give chant “pride of place,” and one way is to use it in a very targeted way that makes it stand out – that makes it special and different from what we normally do. Lent is a perfect time to incorporate more chant because it’s already a season of “stripping away” and calls us (in GIRM #313) to lead with our voices over our instruments.
Ultimately, the Church prescribes all of this because, above all, it wants Easter to feel like Easter! If you find yourself “missing” certain things during Lent, that’s good – that’s exactly the point! That’s what makes Easter all the more joyful when He is Risen from the grave!
Bart McDonough, Music Director
Are you interested in practicing for the season? Click here to find sound recordings, music sheets, and page numbers in the Missal!