Music for the First Sunday of Lent - what we will be singing during the Lenten season and why.
We began our new liturgical year back on the last day of November, the beginning of Advent, and we celebrated the beautiful, but short season of Christmas, followed by eight Sundays in Ordinary Time. Now, we journey into the forty-plus-day season of Lent, in preparation for the greatest Solemnity in our Liturgical Year: Easter, the Resurrection of the Lord.
Everything about the season of Lent is more somber and austere than the rest of the Church year. Although Advent, too, is a penitential season of preparation for the great Solemnity of Christmas, Lent is yet more solemn, introspective, and penitential. The word ‘Lent’ means ‘springtime.’ Lent is a season of preparation for the catechumens who are to be baptized into the Catholic faith at Easter, and is a very important time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for all Catholics: a time to examine our hearts, our actions, and our lives…… a time to call ourselves and others to repentance. It is a time for us to spiritually ‘go into the desert’ to be with the Lord in prayer and fasting.
The Church gives liturgical directives for these forty days. The environment in the church is minimal and unadorned. Flowers are absent. We may only see a few simple reminders of the desert. The joyful shout of “Alleluia” is silenced in all singing. The Gloria is not sung (except on Feast Days), but the “Kyrie Eleison” is sung. We sing songs, hymns, and psalms of repentance. Our liturgical music is also minimal. Instruments are used only to accompany singing; there are no instrumental preludes, interludes, or postludes.
Psalm 91 is the assigned psalm for the Introit, or Entrance Antiphon, and the Communion Antiphon on the First Sunday of Lent, so we will be singing Psalm 91 during Communion today. “Parce Domine” will be sung at the beginning of Mass. It is an ancient antiphon, “Spare us, O Lord,” sung with the verses of Psalm 51, the great Psalm of David pleading for the Lord’s mercy. Psalm 51 is the most often sung (prayed) penitential psalm. It is prayed every Friday during Morning Prayer by all religious, priests, and laity who are faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours.
Because our sung prayer during Lent is simple and unadorned, the great “Alleluias” and music of Easter in turn become even more joyful and solemn. Our time of repentance and sacrifice is amply rewarded and blessed at Easter! May your Lent be prayerful and profound, and may the music we sing at Mass help your journey through the season.