Non Solum: Use of Organ in Lent

Musicam sacram says at no. 66 that the playing of organ and other instruments “as solos is not permitted in Advent, Lent, during the Sacred Triduum and in the Offices and Masses of the Dead.” The General Instruction of the Roman Missal picks this up at no. 313: “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.”

But as is known, there are long-standing contrary customs in some places and some cultures. I have the impression that the ban on instrumental music during Lent has weakened in many places in recent decades.

Here in the abbey, I’ve asked organists to observe the traditional prohibition – so that the joy of Easter season can shine forth all the more gloriously . But we’ve had to make a few exceptions, such as solemnized Evening Prayer on Sundays with vested ministers and incense, where a procession of the monks in silence would be just too weird. But even here, I’ve asked that at the end of the service, quiet organ music be used only while the ministers exit, with the monks then leaving in silence.

What do you think? Is this an issue worth looking it? What do you think should be done? And is there anything to be said about organ accompaniment being less flashy, or with fewer fancy interludes between stanzas, during penitential seasons?



  1. The subtext is familiarity. We’ve grown less familiar with Lenten aural austerity, and it’s become or becoming strange to us. That, to me, reflects a narrowing of experience.

    A contrast might be drawn with the Oratio super populum. While obviously it was Lenten practice before Vatican II, so far as I can recall it was not fully incorporated in the English vernacular of the Roman Missal until the recent edition. The prayers can be quite beautiful, but I’ve yet to witness them being used. Encouraging the use of them would be to expand our experience.

  2. People should rediscover the austere and yet encouraging beauty of the human voice singing without accompaniment. My 20+ years of choir experience have shown me that, after the initial surprise, congregational singing can get stronger without accompaniment, if the music is simple enough (e.g., simple plainchant, Taize songs, familiar hymns).

    We can learn something from our Byzantine brethren in this regard. Our instruments have become a substitute for the genuine full-bodied contribution of the only instrument that God himself has created, the instrument that speaks personally to Him from each heart.

    I would love to see a strong effort made to eliminate instrumental accompaniment altogether during Lent and to minimize it during Advent. We always do that here at the College and it really underlines the special character of the seasons.

    1. Both of my parishes, one where I am a member in the pews, and other where I direct the schola, have completely silenced the organ for lent. One is an EF where the congregation doesn’t sing at all (though I wish they would more sometimes, at least on the dialogs and such), and the other doesn’t rely strongly on hymns and the congregation sings the ordinary robustly with or without organ, so it honestly isn’t needed to support the singing in either case.

      And of course, I’ll probably call back my organist for Laetare, or at least play some simpler pieces myself to appropriately ornament that day’s Mass.

      @Peter Kwasniewski – comment #2:
      I agree, Dr. K. Great points.

  3. This rubric seems to be part of the notion of “progressive solemnity” e.g. the organ can be used during a more solemnized Vespers.

    Even since my post on the Liturgical Year and Average Church Attendance I have thought we need to rethink and maybe even get rid of the notion of “progressive solemnity.”
    Protestant Churches placing emphasis upon the liturgical year simply have lower church attendance than those who don’t. They have two cycles, an advent buildup to Christmas, and a Lent buildup to Easter. The rest of the year their attendance is lower than Protestant Churches emphasizing going to church each Lord’s Day. Liturgical year attendance drops rapidly after Christmas and Easter; people don’t seem to have much interest in Epiphany and Pentecost and even less interest in “Ordinary Time”

    The Protestant churches that emphasize the Lord’s Day have the right approach. Easter is a bigger Lord’s Day rather than each Sunday being a Little Easter. These Protestant congregations have varied programs over the year but they try to make each Lord’s Day special. If we want to keep people coming year around, we should act similarly.

    My favorite parish uses incense ONLY during Advent and Lent and then only at the Entrance hymn. The parish does this out of consideration for those who have respiratory disturbances. These people may watch and hear the proceedings from behind the glass wall that separates the narthex, and enter the nave when air conditioning has removed the incense smell.

    Other “specializations” of Advent and Lent could be “a cappella” singing of chanted Latin or English Kyrie, Creed, Sanctus, Lamb of God. Chanting the Creed would be a good reason to replace the “preparation” hymn or chant with organ or instrumental solo. Suggest keeping instrumental accompaniment for entrance, communion, and recessional. No organ prelude or postlude.

    At a funeral of a young woman, I experienced a pan pipe solo that was even more evocative than playing taps. Lamentations of various kinds are an important part of psalms and other scripture. Organs and other instruments can assist in creating an atmosphere of lamentation. The preparation period would be a good place for such music.

  4. Considering that 313 falls under a section on the Eucharist, I wonder if playing the organ for Vespers is even really an exception to this. Also, considering that the prelude and postlude are not really part of the liturgy anyway, I’ve never seen a problem with using the organ for these spots. I have tended to favor the great Lutheran tradition of expressive Lenten organ music (think Bach “O Mensch bewein”). Still, it’s a nice sensible Roman tradition – I just wish it were left voluntary to observe this tradition. Regarding organ accompaniment and interludes, the purpose of doing this during the year is not for flash, but rather to inspire the singing and add variety. That doesn’t need to change during Lent, although it can take on a different character. I consider extended introductions and interludes to be supporting singing.

  5. It is only recently that I have worked for a pastor who encouraged this tradition of not using the organ/instruments during the season of Lent. I personally like it for a number of reasons. 1. It is “different” and people notice that. 2. It allows me a bit of time to prepare more substantial music for Triduum and the Easter. (Because in a large suburban parish there really IS only so much time in the day.)

    To this end I have printed the following in our Order of Worship the first three weeks of Lent:


    The Roman Missal instructs us in the introduction for the
    season of Lent that “During Lent…the use of musical
    instruments is allowed only so as to support the singing.”
    With this in mind, we will only be using the organ, piano
    and other instruments to lead the singing of the
    congregation and choirs during the season of Lent. The
    exception to this will be on the 4th Sunday of Lent (also
    known as Laetare Sunday). Perhaps during Lent we can
    be especially attentive to what God might be saying to us
    in this silence. Also let us be attentive to those in silent
    prayer near us in the church before and after Mass by
    honoring that silence and keeping our conversations to a
    minimum until we reach the Gathering Space.

  6. When I was at University, the rule in the chapel during lent was no mixtures or reeds and keep as far as possible to 8′ and 4′ diapasons. I have to say that in the parishes round here, where there are no organs, the rule isn’t observed at all.

  7. Here in Winter Park, Florida, we are really trying to observe the use of more chant sung with little or no accompaniment. I am fortunate to have a parish that likes to chant and does it well. We use the organ to support only some hymn singing, and some of the chants. Even at our Spanish and Contemporary Masses, we really try to observe this so that at Easter we can then really rejoice and celebrate the resurrection.

  8. On Sundays in Lent there ought to be no organ preludes or postludes, only accompaniment for hymnody. The choir sings a cappella (i.e., a motet) for Communion meditation, and the assembly could sing a cappella a Taize chant during the Communion procession. The ordinaries could also be chanted by everyone.

    A total suppression of the organ on Sundays in Lent seems counter-intuitive because, after all, it is Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Just as the Church is released from her fasting on Sundays in Lent, though meals are still simple, I think the pulling back on the organ a tad bit would be befitting to maintain the simplicity of the season.

  9. I am a fan of increased a cappella singing by the assembly, and the use of organ and other instruments to re-color the season. There’s a difference between aural fasting and silence. By and large, the Roman rite needs to learn how instruments can add their own “voices” to the liturgy. I found that playing the Passion Chorale on a soft 8′ stop, beginning under the final blessing, with the final 4 or 5 bars being the “postlude” is a more austere ending than silence. (The surrounding culture is really bad at intentional silence.) Same goes for instrumental music before the liturgy begins; maybe the custom of silencing instruments is weakening as we discover how they can positively contribute to the sonic color of the season.

    1. @Alan Hommerding – comment #10:
      Well said, Alan. My customary Passion Sunday postlude at the Cathedral of the Madeleine (directly after the dismissal while the ministers exited, because we didn’t have a closing hymn) was the Reger setting of the Passion Chorale. We always thought it was more effective than strict silence.

    2. @Alan Hommerding – comment #10:

      Yes I would echo that. I think of one of the most evocative of Bach’s compositions, ‘O Mensch beweil den Sunder gross…’ (excuse the incorrect German if necessary!). It is thoroughly Lenten in its own way.

      I don’t equate ‘austerity’ with ‘absence’ of something, necessarily.

      The prohibition on organs is (?) something that goes way back to the general feeling in the early medieval Church that liturgy should only have the human voice, which is still the custom in many/most Byzantine Rite environments (though I have seen organs in USA Greek churches).

      It seems to have survived in ‘penitential’ seasons, with no compelling reason as far as I can see.


  10. Well, if you read Dante’s Purgatorio, you can get a sense of how joyful Lenten ascesis might be intended to be. Indeed, lyrically so. Just not triumphally so. Again, it’s about avoiding a narrowing of experience. The First World has a strong tendency to (i) ignore ascesis as embarrassing, (ii) reduce it to the merely therapeutic or instrumental, or (iii) engage it melodramatically.

  11. A music aesthetic of “brokenness” during Lent?

    Many of the comments above have either separately or in combination proposed “a cappella” singing and instrumental music during Lent.

    It seems to me that the two could be used to develop a very general aesthetic which will emphasize a cappella music by the choir and the people while at the same time allowing for instrumental music that could capture the spirit of the season.

    Separating the instrumental from the human voices provides a more “desert” like experience in which we realize our limitations, and our need for others, and experience instrumental music as something outside us like the sounds and sights of the desert rather than something supporting us or the choir.

    Along with “a cappella” it would be an especially appropriate time to use chant and Latin. I would especially put in a plug for a chanted Creed in Latin or English. Chant, Latin, the Creed would seem particularly appropriate to the RCIA since we are introducing people not simply to the present local tradition but also to a history. It would also be in accord with the idea that ancient practices are particularly likely to survive during the most sacred parts of the liturgical year.

    In my comment #3 above I mentioned my favorite parish limits the use of incense to only Lent and Advent. This is part of what seems to be the pastor’s attempt to create a modern “noble simplicity.” Rather than confusing people with the wealth and complexity of all the possible things that could be done e.g. with incense, he has opted to keep things very simple and predictable.

    This aesthetic of brokenness would make Lent very predictable and very distinctive musically while actually allowing a lot of freedom in its implementation.

    Such an aesthetic would also get us away from the notion of progressive solemnity and approach the notion of using various ways to celebrate the Lord’s Day to motivate people to come every Sunday not just during the more solemn times of the year.

  12. In my experience, playing a subdued instrumental postlude is quieter than playing nothing. Silence after the recessional hymn = the service is over, you’re all free to talk as loudly as you like. Quiet organ postlude = we’re still in church, let’s be prayerful and save conversations for the parking lot.

    1. @Ben Yanke – comment #17:
      To insist on that point is to uphold the letter of the law contrary to the spirit of the law. The rationale behind prohibiting instrumental music is surely not to make aural space for raucous talking, but that is exactly the effect it has in a typical parish setting.

      I aim to serve God and his people, the church. When the rubrics provide means to help people pray, then I honor them. But on the rare occasion when I have to choose between obeying every jot and tittle of the rubrics or making an adaptation for the common good, I don’t bat an eye. The salvation of souls is the highest law.

      1. @Scott Pluff – comment #22:
        Interesting — so there’s no possibility of the pastor asking the people, politely but firmly, to keep silence in church? Have we simply given up altogether the notion of any kind of discipline, self-restraint, or propriety in the church building? The way you are speaking makes it sound like we have simply given up on the people’s intelligence and good will and so we need to find bureaucratic solutions (like playing music) that will keep them entertained. How depressing.

      2. @Peter Kwasniewski – comment #25:
        Playing quiet instrumental music is a bureaucratic solution? I don’t follow your point. Making announcements about how people ought to behave in church seems more bureaucratic to me.

        Our situation is complicated by the fact that our pastor and associate tend to be more reverent, while our other associate has a very casual and chatty approach to liturgy. It’s hard to promote silence this week if next week the celebrant will be striking up conversations before and after Mass.

  13. Interesting. I don’t think I have ever been in a church that didn’t have music during Lent. Or, if they didn’t have music, it was because the organ/piano was broken or because the musician was ill or some reason other than it is a church rubric. It might be a good idea for some of the reasons noted, but it is widely disregarded at least in my corner of the world. I think it would be interesting to poll the priests across the country to see how many are aware of it.

  14. About silence in the Mass —

    It seems to me that silence is most appropriate at the Consecration and at Communion for the simple reason that it is at those times that the congregation is in touch directly with God, the Infinite, the Reality whose fullness can be known in this world only by a double-negation: God is the Not-Limited. This concept (the Not-Limited) is in some way positive, but in another way it is empty, empty of all finitude. The emptiness of silence at those times in the Mass can powerfully symbolize our negative-positive understanding of God, the Infinite, the Mysterious.
    At other points in the Mass and in different liturgical seasons, this power of silence can also be used to symbolize certain aspects of God. This is something that I think the proponents of the Latin Mass understand best — silence can be a powerful symbol.

  15. A brief article that I wrote in 2011 (H/T to the Society of St Gregory’s journal Music and Liturgy):

    Every year there is debate about whether or not the organ may be used during Advent and Lent, and especially regarding its use during the Sacred Triduum. It is interesting to see how legislation on this controversial subject has varied over the years.

    Traditionally, it has been thought that the organ has been forbidden during Advent and Lent. However, the position has never been nearly as clear-cut as that.

    For example, in 1673 the Sacred Congregation of Rites confirmed that the organ could be used on Gaudete and Laetare Sundays (the 3rd Sunday of Advent and the 4th Sunday of Lent). This was confirmed again in 1839, when it was stated that the then prohibition in the Ceremonial of Bishops did not hold. Other exceptions were also noted in 1741 (it was permissible for the organ to be played on the Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, even if the liturgical colour is already a Lenten violet, because, according to the Congregation, the organ could be played at every Mass where the deacon and the subdeacon at the altar wore the dalmatic and tunicle [sic]) and in 1753 (the organ could be used during Votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin and at Vespers during the Litany of Loreto, which took place every Saturday, including Advent and Lent).

    However, in 1847, 1868 and 1883 the Congregation confirmed the prohibition on the Sundays of Advent and Lent except Gaudete and Laetare Sundays.

    This was broadly the position up to the Congregation’s Instruction De Sacra Musica et Liturgia of 1958, which clarified as follows:

    a prohibition on use of the organ during all liturgical actions (except Benediction) during Advent and Lent, plus from Septuagesima to Quinquagesima, with the following exceptions:
    (a) “on feasts of obligation and holidays (except Sundays), as well as on the feast of the principal patron of the place, of the titular or dedication anniversary of the particular church, or of the founder of the religious congregation; or if some extraordinary solemnity is being kept”.
    (b) Gaudete and Laetare Sundays and the Chrism Mass.
    (c) “The music of the organ or harmonium is also allowed at Mass and Vespers solely to support the singing.” [my emphasis] This is the first chink in a suit of armour that was to be subsequently demolished altogether within 30 years.

    Nothing is said in Musicam Sacram (1967), but in England and Wales an important but little-known document is Music in the Mass (Bishops of England and Wales, 1970). Paragraph 37 states quite clearly: “The organ may be used to lead the singing at any time, even on Good Friday.” Interestingly, another document of the same Bishops’ Conference, Music in the Parish Mass (1981), is completely silent on this point. Perhaps its authors saw no need to vary the previous provision.

    England and Wales’s lead was reluctantly followed in 1986 by the document De concentibus in ecclesiis (Instruction on Concerts in Churches, Congregation for Divine Worship, 1987), whose paragraph 7 states: “In accordance with tradition, the organ should remain silent during penitential seasons (Lent and Holy Week), during Advent and Liturgy for the dead. When, however, there is real pastoral need, the organ can be used to support the singing.

    This brings us to the latest incarnation of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal [GIRM] where we find paragraph in 313:

    “In Advent the use of the organ and other musical instruments should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this time of year, without expressing in anticipation the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.
    In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed only in order to support the singing. Exceptions, however, are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts.”

    This seems to indicate that the prohibition during Advent has now disappeared altogether, a recognition that Advent is no longer considered as a penitential season as such (it has an Alleluia, though no Gloria) but as a season of expectant hope, in accordance with modern liturgical thought.

    But the real point is that those who wish to continue to ban the organ during the seasons of Advent and Lent are not only working in a different direction from the changing thrust of the Church’s pastoral wisdom, as evidenced in the documents quoted above, but have failed to recognize that we now have a different kind of liturgy from that of preconciliar days.

    Before the Council, when the organ was normally the only instrument and a proportion of the music used was unaccompanied, ceasing to use the organ made sense and provided seasonal contrast. These days, in a world of instrumental groups as well as organ, and where singing is predominantly accompanied, it makes rather less sense to remove all accompaniment for the sake of a principle which is no longer required by legislation and which runs counter to the kind of participatory liturgy that we now enjoy. There are other ways of demonstrating the different nature of the liturgical seasons.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #20:
      I could not disagree more radically. It may be different in your experience, but I have rarely — in the many churches I’ve been to in the United States — seen people singing with much gusto even when there’s plenty of instrumental accompaniment. And I’ve experienced better and stronger singing when it’s been unaccompanied. I think there is a profound psychological reason for this: the instruments actually substitute for the singing; they make music “happen” whether people use their voices or not; they reward laziness. We need to recover a sense that the primary source of music of Mass is the human voice, and THEN — and only then — will instruments find their proper place.

      1. @Peter Kwasniewski – comment #24:
        The bigger factors for singing with gusto seem to be three: pastoral leadership, good repertoire, and attending to good acoustics. Accompaniment is in the mix, but it’s not the only thing.

        I suspect that we–meaning you, Paul, and I–have served in communities where liturgy and singing is a priority. So it’s going to happen with our leadership, and not because any particular instrument is playing or not.

      2. @Peter Kwasniewski – comment #24:
        I would tend to concur with you. Ideally, instruments contribute texture, varied harmony, etc., but should never substitute for the singing. Too often, the people in the pews tend to let the “musicians” do all the work for them, and you’re right – in the worst cases, laziness is promoted. However, I think there are too many other factors at play to say that singing is uniformly better unaccompanied. Those factors include the liturgical music selected, acoustics of the church building, amplification, and skill of the musicians. And the organ is different than other instruments, because at its best it is a wind instrument that when used skillfully can seamlessly blend with the voices. I don’t really want to start an argument about use of other instruments, as they are clearly permitted, but I’m talking physics here, not quoting documents. All that said, I’ve been in some parishes where there is a lack of skilled musicians, and the singing would have been way better had we just been permitted to sing some short a cappella congregational antiphons.

      3. @Peter Kwasniewski – comment #24:

        I would agree that unaccompanied singing can be a great relief (!) and I advocate it both as a means of achieving contrast and enabling the assembly to find its own voice.

        However, my point was that we now have a significant proportion of music which requires accompaniment in order to make musical sense. Hymnologists have long decried tunes such as Dykes’s Gerontius which contain strings of repeated notes in the melody which make perfect sense with the shifting harmonies beneath but which do not work when those harmonies are removed. The same is even more true today in most areas of liturgical music, except where a composer has written with pure melody in mind (many composers write with accompaniment firmly in mind, and compose at the piano or guitar).

      4. @Paul Inwood – comment #29:
        “many composers write with accompaniment firmly in mind, and compose at the piano or guitar”

        And that is often a sign of something that should not be frequently featured in congregational repertoire. And handy presumptive rule is to prefer congregational music that sounds good unaccompanied. It doesn’t mean you have to sing it unaccompanied. But it won’t sound strange if you do.

  16. Having said all that, for me it seems quite obvious that there are ways of using the organ (and other instruments) to emphasize the different character of Lent, rather than just crudely banning their use altogether.

    The example of Bach’s O Mensch bewein’ is just one among many that could be cited. Another excellent one would be Stephen Dean’s exquisite Father, if this cup, perfect for use during the veneration of the cross on Good Friday, but which just does not make sense without the plangent chromaticisms of the keyboard accompaniment.

  17. This year we decided to aurally mark Lent by having instrumental music at the collection/preparation of the gifts rather than our usual congregational singing. This is, I recognize, the exact opposite of the tradition of not having instrumental music in Lent, but it seems to me to achieve the same net effect of a notable aural austerity.

  18. At St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre we are omitting preludes and postludes at Sunday liturgies, but still use instrumental music during our daily televised Mass, weddings and funerals. The idea of omitting preludes and postludes is only two years old, and has been noticed by clergy and assembly as a call to “something different”. We were glad that the Ordination of our new Auxiliary yesterday fell on the Solemnity of the Annunciation and we could breathe easy as the organ roared! My sense in the Northeast US most parishes do not limit the use of the organ to any great extent during Lent. But I would be happy to be proven wrong.

  19. I marvel that many of you have the luxury of being able to debate whether or not to have instrumental (usually organ) accompaniment to music during the penitential seasons. In my part of the UK, I would venture that, by this criterion, the penitential seasons last all year. For reasons that I cannot explain, there is an acute shortage of musicians willing and able to take up the position of organist in our churches. The result is that, of necessity, singing is unaccompanied or even worse, takes place against a background of pre recorded hymns – a sort of ecclesial karaoke, I suppose.
    I urge you to look after your musicians; they are an increasingly rare breed!q

  20. “For reasons that I cannot explain, there is an acute shortage of musicians willing and able to take up the position of organist in our churches.”

    I can explain it: You don’t pay them enough. I know many British organists, and they all come to America where they can make a living playing organ. Result for you is no organists. Simple economics!

  21. I apologizing for being ignorant, but isn’t the Fourth Sunday of Lent the Fourth Sunday of Lent? Didn’t Laetare Sunday disappear with the revised calendar in the 1960s? I remember Laetare Sunday and Quinquagesima Sunday as a child and they they disappeared with the revised Mass.
    Why does GIRM refer to Laetare while the Missal only calls it “Fourth Sunday”? Does the Missal’s designation of Fourth Sunday mean that it is no longer Laetare? Since the Missal translation is more recent does it suggest a shift in thinking? Or is the rubric allowing rose vestments implying that we are still thinking of this Sunday as different? Same for Gaudete? Do we really need a pink candle in the Advent wreath? Or are those Sundays of equal importance as well?

    1. @Bruce Janiga – comment #34:
      “Laetare Ierusalem” is still the proper Latin introit in the reformed Graduale, so it’s as much Laetare Sunday as it ever was. Although of course one now has many musical options in addition to that Laetare entrance chant, so the whole church isn’t starting the liturgy with the “Laetare” antiphon.

      Of course even before Vatican II most Sunday Masses by far did not have a schola to sing that proper chant, so most people only knew that that was the entrance antiphon if they were following in a people’s missal. This only became a common practice in the decades before Vatican II, so most of the people throughout most of history had no idea what the proper entrance antiphon was. But it was still uniformly done everywhere, recited or sung, before Vatican II.


      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #35:
        My point is that the Roman Missal doesn’t designate it in a way other than the “Third Sunday of Lent” or the “Second” so why continue to call it by its old name? The heading on the page in the Missal says “Fourth Sunday of Lent.” We don’t/didn’t call the Third Sunday “Oculi Sunday” based on its introit. Doesn’t preserving the old name go against the idea that the Sundays of Lent share the same character? As Fr Jim implies below (#38) it feels more like a compromise with the Pre-Conciliar ( I call it the “et cum spiritu tuo”) Mass proponents. We don’t still speak of Septuagesima Sunday, so why still call it Laetare Sunday?

      2. @Bruce Janiga – comment #39:
        Hi Bruce,
        Actually, unless I’m mistaken (somebody correct me if so!), the old unreformed missal simply called it “Dominca Quarta in Quadragesima” (“Fourth Sunday in Lent”) with a subtitle “Statio ad S. Crucem in Ierusalem” giving the stational church. It wasn’t officially called “Laetare Sunday.” It took on the popular name because of the introit. I think lots of Sundays got known that way (“Quasimodo,” the hunchback of Notre Dame, got his name from the introit of the Second Sunday of Easter). The most recent official German Lutheran hymnal still designates each Sunday by its Introit incipit in Latin, and I assume this is a holdover from an earlier Catholic practice of designating Sundays, at least informally, by the Introit beginning.


      3. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #40:
        So it never REALLY was Laetare Sunday. Interesting. You wonder why they gave some nicknames like Laetare but others did not receive one based on the introit. I guess it’s another example of liturgical innovation BEFORE VC2.
        Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

      4. @Bruce Janiga – comment #42:
        Bruce, My hunch is that certain days loomed large in popular piety. Laetare and Gaudete being two of them. Mid-points of their seasons, with a lightening of restrictions, or providing refreshment and encouragement as the feasts approached. Don’t forget, that Laetare is the original mother’s day. People often went to the mother church (cathedral) and home to visit their mothers as well. Most probably, this was from the liturgical references to the Church/Jerusalem as mother. The epistle from Galatians 4:22-31, speaks of Jerusalem as our mother and the Gospel is John 6:1-15, the Feeding of the 5,000. And then follows the fifth Sunday, which began/begins Passiontide, taking on even more sober tones than the first 4 weeks of Lent. There is little in greater contrast than seeing a church decked in rose vestments and flowers one week and having shrouded images the next.

    2. @Bruce Janiga – comment #34:
      Yes, Bruce. I also have questions about the meaning of both Gaudete and Laetare Sundays. I do realize these titles are used due to the first words of the entrance antiphon. But why is there the option to celebrate these Sundays in a more festive way (flowers on the altar, rose-colored vestments, a fuller use of music)?

      I’ve heard some people explain that we should celebrate Laetare because Lent is half over. But does that rationale cast Lent in a negative light? Others say that it is a Sunday to anticipate Easter. Liturgically, wouldn’t that reason be more appropriate for the Second Sunday of Lent, when the Gospel of the Transfiguration is read?

      We know that the entrance antiphons sometimes but not always reflect the Scripture readings of the day. The concept of rejoicing on the Fourth Sunday of Lent only seems directly apparent to me in the Gospel of Cycle C, the story of the Prodigal Son. (“But we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again.”) and not in Cycles A or B.

      In Advent, the Gospels for all three cycles of the Third Sunday deal with John the Baptist. However, in each cycle, there are direct references to rejoicing in the first reading, responsorial psalm, or second reading, depending on the Sunday. It almost seems that those who arranged the post-Conciliar Lectionary tried in some way to coordinate the readings with the “gaude” of the entrance antiphon. Or perhaps this is just a coincidence. But the same thing doesn’t seem to have happened on the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

      Of course, anything “extra” done for Gaudete or Laetare Sundays is optional. But does the very concept of these two named Sundays reflect some kind of compromise with pre-Conciliar practices, of which I’m too young to remember, or are there more profound reasons of which I am unaware?

  22. It’s also the day the Pope traditionally bestows the golden rose, but Pope Francis did this for Our Lady of Guadalupe in November of last year.

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