A Preview of Liturgy as We Enter Lent (Musical Catechesis in SAP 2/11/24 Bulletin)

Buckle up! This is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time until Sunday, June 9, 2024. Over the coming weeks, we will travel together through the penitential season of Lent, which prepares us for the Paschal Triduum, which ultimately leads into the joyful season of Easter. 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).

Personally, I find the appearance of Catholic Churches during Lent to be much more impactful than the music of the season. The Catholic liturgy is ingenious in that it activates all of our senses, particularly sight, sound, and smell. In liturgy and sacred music courses, we call it the “bells and smells.”

In anticipation of Lent, the altar flowers will be removed at some point on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we won’t sing Alleluia before the Gospel, and Gloria will be on hiatus except for a couple of occasions (Chair of St. Peter on 2/22/24 and St. Joseph on 3/19/24). This is all part of the Lenten pathway of purification.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) is the “playbook” of the Roman Catholic Mass. It tells priests and their staff/volunteers what can and cannot be done. Amongst priests and liturgists, there’s a simple saying, “Do the red. Say the black.” In other words, stick to the script that Holy Mother Church has given us.

At Saint Anthony of Padua, we have taken the Holy Father’s words in his July 2021 motu proprio to heart when Pope Francis wrote:

“Be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses.”

Essentially, stick to the script.

So what exactly does “the script” say about Lent?

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 wonderful environment team will not have beautiful altar flowers on the altar. This means that our musicians will not be playing preludes, interludes, or postludes at the Mass.

Why? 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.

Lent is a penitential season where we aren’t greeted by the smell of flowers, sound of music, and the beautiful colors that pop against our beige walls.

Inevitably, there will be some negative comment about the austerity of Catholic liturgy in Lent coupled with something along the lines of, “That’s not what Fr. XYZ does at my old parish, St. ABC. Church is supposed to make me feel good.”

While I understand and will listen, and our liturgical team of volunteers and staff members have been instructed to be that welcoming ear, there ultimately is very little we can do.

Sacrosanctum Concilium, or, in English, the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, which is the Constitution of the 2nd Vatican Council explicitly handling Catholic liturgy is pretty clear in §22.3:

“Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”

The idea here is that the Catholic Church is universal. The way we celebrate Mass at St. Anthony of Padua should mirror how Mass is celebrated at St. Peter’s in Vatican City or… well… any Roman Rite church.

I can assure you that there are things that I don’t agree with or would change (if I could). I’m pretty certain that there are things Fr. Steve doesn’t agree with or would change (if he could). Ultimately, as Catholics, we obey the successor of St. Peter – the Pope. Like all aspects of Christian life, I take solace in knowing that there are many things that I will never understand and have accepted that I don’t need to. That’s part of being a person of faith.

So this Lent, take time to enjoy the bareness of our building. Take time to enjoy the music that we don’t hear at other parts of the year. This is all meant to help you prepare for the Easter celebration. God gave His only son, and Mary watched on as Jesus made His journey to Calvary – the Stations of the Cross are meant to make us a little uncomfortable and ignite self-reflection.