OME PEOPLE SEEM to dread the season of Lent. I’m not sure why that is exactly, but I can guess. Perhaps they think there is too much focus on negative things, like sin. Maybe they don’t want to think about depriving themselves by fasting, or going without meat on Fridays. Maybe the Lenten hymns aren’t uplifting or “happy” enough for them, or maybe they’re uncomfortable with extra silence during the Mass. I’ve even had priests tell me that people just tend to be in a really bad mood during Lent, and that complaints about all sorts of things, especially the music, are going to start pouring into the church.
Well, I don’t buy it. If we help people to understand all the positive aspects of Lent, the more they will appreciate it. In fact, the more I think about it, I think that Lent just might be my favorite time of the Church year.
Some of the reasons I look forward to the Lenten season:
(1) Great choral music
There is so much passionate, expressive, moving, and just plain GREAT choral music that really only makes sense during Lent. From Allegri’s famous Miserere (not to mention settings by Lotti, Byrd and Palestrina) to Morley’s Nolo mortem peccatoris, Tu solus qui facis mirabilia by Josquin, Byrd’s In jejunio et fletu, Anerio’s Christus factus est; the list is endless and I haven’t even mentioned the great anthems in English! Joy in both singing and listening.
Unmistakable tunes like HEINLEIN, ST FLAVIAN, ERHALT UNS HERR, PASSION CHORALE, and ATTENDE DOMINE are so associated with Lent that we are immersed in the flavor of the season immediately upon their sounding, while their hymn texts are like little mini-homilies, leading us through the Biblical and theological highpoints of our Lenten journey.
(3) The Rites of Christian Initiation
Each week we welcome and get to know our brothers and sisters who will soon be in full Communion with us in the faith. That’s pretty uplifting if you ask me.
(4) A return to the confessional
Many parishes and dioceses put a renewed emphasis on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Extra penance services are held and people are encouraged to make a good Lenten confession before Easter. Lines for confession get longer and more people seem to take their faith more seriously. A reason to rejoice!
(5) Time for reflection
The restriction of the organ and other instruments to only accompany singing leaves more time for silence. As I mentioned earlier, this extra silence might make some people feel uncomfortable. But we can learn to use this time as a chance for extra prayer and active listening. How wonderful to have the opportunity to heighten our internal joy even as we place limits on our external pleasures.
(6) Increased use of chant and Latin
During Lent many parishes will sing a Latin Agnus Dei or Sanctus. Some choirs may include a chanted Introit. And in some fortunate places, the priest may even sing more of his parts! While these things certainly should take place all year ‘round, this is still a positive sign for which we should all be thankful.
(7) Laetare Sunday
Rejoice, Jerusalem! We are closer than ever to our Easter joy.
As I mentioned above, there is so much great choral music from which to choose during Lent, and I love that process. I am thrilled that I will get to share that process and some of my favorite pieces at the Sacred Music Symposium 2017 this coming June. In the meantime, have a listen to one of my favorite English anthems for Lent: