How is your music going at the Sunday liturgies of Lent? What styles and genres of music are you using for the service music, antiphons, and hymns and songs?
Article 27 of the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar of 1969 says this about Lent:
27. Lent is a preparation for the celebration of Easter. For the Lenten liturgy disposes both catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery: catechumens, through the several stages of Christian initiation; the faithful, through reminders of their own baptism and through penitential practices.
The emphasis is on baptism and penitence – more of the former than the latter, in fact.
In various communities where I have been music minister, and now in the abbey, I typically program more English chant during Lent, perhaps more Latin chant, and avoidance of overly ‘bright,’ ‘glorious,’ ‘triumphalistic’ music that will be coming at Easter. I try to get all the musicians on board with no instrumental solos. When the prep hymn or chant is done, for example, there can be silence rather than organ improv or literature.
What I intend to capture in musical imagery is the simplicity and seriousness of the invitation to repent, be converted, and live out ones baptism. This is not the time for distraction, excess, sentimentality, comfort, or frivolity. It’s the time to focus on what is essential.
But this doesn’t mean it should hurt. There is deep joy in living according to one’s real priorities. There is true delight in hearing God’s Word and responding to it.
I’ve sometimes made the mistake of programming too much simple, unaccompanied music, thinking it would be serious and stunning. But it wasn’t – it was just dull and depressing. I certainly don’t want to use more Latin chant in Lent, or use it only in Lent, on the misguided notion that chant is penitential. (If you program a simple Latin Agnus Dei in Lent, consider using it throughout the Great 50 Days until Pentecost).
Finding the right balance is the key. We use only proper introits in the abbey, no hymns or songs, at the entrance in Lent. They are in English and congregational. If the congregational introit is in chant style, then perhaps the Responsorial Psalm could be a metered setting. Or vice versa. If there is much chant in English and Latin – I’m all in favor of this, of course! – then there might be some congregational music accompanied by organ that fits well within a context of chant but has the right kind of energy about it. In some contexts, spirituals can say “Lenten conversion” even if, or precisely if, they are rhythmically upbeat. “Somebody’s Knockin’ at Your Door,” anyone?
How do you think about and put into practice the music in Lent?