Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year

Believe it or not, we are only a few weeks away from the start of our Lenten journey. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends just before the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday (UNLY #28). The Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year, or UNLY, teaches us that, “Lent is ordered to preparing for the celebration of Easter, since the Lenten liturgy prepares for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery both catechumens, by the various stages of Christian Initiation, and the faithful, who recall their own Baptism and do penance” (UNLY #27).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked about how the Second Vatican Council’s liturgical books handle music. Specifically, how we, as a parish family, are doing more to consciously adhere to them after Pope Francis July 2021 motu proprio. Sacrosanctum Concilium, or the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, and the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, or GIRM, are the two major guides for how we celebrate our liturgies.

In a few weeks, you will notice changes to the parish. For example, flowers will be removed from the sanctuary. We’ll begin advertising our weekly Stations of the Cross devotion on Fridays and the scrutiny process for those going through the RCIA process will be done at Mass. Music will become very simple with zero instrumental solos. We won’t be singing the Gloria or Alleluia for the Gospel Acclamation.

Most of you have experienced these “changes” before at our parish as well as at others. These decisions to make adjustments to our Mass aren’t done on the whim of the pastor, liturgy director, or environment team. In fact, these changes are dictated specifically through the General Instruction on the Roman Missal and the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy. The changes are universal and are supposed to happen at every Roman Catholic Church in the world. Specific ideas and points are labeled in each respective book by number similar to how a hymnal works. No precedence or hierarchy is implied by the numbers.

GIRM #305 tells us, “During Lent it is forbidden for the altar to be decorated with flowers. Exceptions, however, are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts.” GIRM #313 tells us, “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 means that our musicians will not be playing preludes, interludes, or postludes at the Mass.

What about feasts and solemnities that fall within the Lenten season? Specifically the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19 and Solemnity of the Annunciation exactly nine months before Jesus’ birthday? Well, as you can see, there are specific exemptions for these special occasions that fall “outside” of Lent. GIRM #53 tells us, “It is sung or said on Sundays outside Advent and Lent, and also on Solemnities and Feasts, and at particular celebrations of a more solemn character.”

So why the changes? To answer this, we have to remember the actual reason and purpose behind this season? Lent is about baptism and penance. In a way, removing certain musical and artistic elements from our liturgy is a collective form of penance as a parish. It also creates a sense of anticipation within each and every one of us. Every year, I have someone remark that they miss the instrumental music or the Gloria, and I have to remind them that all of these temporary “fasts” make the liturgical celebrations at the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday that much more sweet.

This coming Lent, we will sing the Introit Antiphon at each of our Sunday liturgies. Typically, we only sing the Introit at our 4 PM Sunday and 5:30 PM Weekday liturgies while we sing together “another suitable hymn,” at our other weekend liturgies as permitted by GIRM #48. This temporary Lenten change will expose all of our parishioners to three of the four options listed in GIRM #48. During the Preparation of the Gifts, we will sing the Offertory Antiphon as we always do plus a favorite of our parish, Fr. Patrick Francis O’Brien’s song “Mercy, O God” at each of our weekend liturgies. Other musical selections will stay consistent throughout the upcoming penitential season as well. Our upcoming Lenten contemporary Communion song has a very direct connection to the Holy Thursday liturgy and St. Thomas Acquinas that will serve as a musical “lantern” guiding the way through the Lenten fast.

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