February 15, 2019

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Andrew Motyka

Lent brings changes to liturgical practices

Lent is coming soon, and with it come several differences to the way we Catholics worship at Mass.

You may have noticed a few differences in music during Lenten Masses, and it goes beyond singing our traditional Lenten music. Most of these differences can be summed up as “don’ts,” but there is actually one thing frequently omitted that should not be.

The first and most obvious difference in our Mass music during Lent is the lack of an Alleluia being sung before the Gospel, or at any other time during the Mass. It is instead replaced by a different acclamation of praise.

The Alleluia (which means “praise the holy name of God”) is the chief praise of the angels in heaven. Our singing of the Alleluia during Mass is a reminder that our celebration of the Mass is a participation in the same praise of heaven.

One focus of Lent, however, is our spiritual exile. This is not to say that Lenten Masses are not participation in the heavenly feast; we are simply focusing on our repentance and return to God. This makes the return of the Alleluia at the Easter Vigil, traditionally sung three times, each higher than the one before, especially powerful.

Likewise, the Gloria is omitted at Lenten Masses. Unlike the Alleluia, which has no exception on this rule, the Gloria is included on some occassions: on feasts and solemnities which fall during Lent, as well as at most ritual Masses which call for the Gloria, such as wedding Masses and the chrism Mass during Holy Week (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, #53).

The mind of the Church, when it comes to music at Mass, is that “great importance [is] attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, #40). This is no different during Lent. Singing should not be eliminated or even reduced during Lent. It is only the character of the music that changes.

In addition to avoiding pieces which include Allelluia in the text, we moderate our use of instruments. During Lent, the organ and other instruments are only allowed to support the singing (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, #313). This means that solo instrumental music is not allowed during the Mass. The exception to this rule is on Laetare Sunday (the Fourth Sunday of Lent), as well as on feasts and solemnities.

In addition to music, decoration of churches is simplified during Lent. Flowers which decorate the altar are not allowed—again, except on Laetare Sunday, feasts and solemnities.

Often omitted in Lent is the use of holy water at the doors to churches. Fonts are often either emptied or filled with sand or other substances. This, however, is not the practice of the Church.

While the faithful are encouraged to fast during Lent, they should not be fasting from the Church’s sacraments or sacramentals. Indeed, we should be encouraged to make greater use of these during Lent. The holy water fonts should only be emptied during the sacred triduum, in preparation for the new blessing of holy water on the Easter Vigil.

Liturgical seasons each have their own characteristics, and Lent is a season which stands out from the rest for its differences.

Let us embrace these practices to help us to draw closer to the sacred mysteries as we turn away from sin and prepare for the great Easter celebration.

(Andrew Motyka is director of archdiocesan and cathedral liturgical music.) †

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