Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“More sparing, therefore, let us make, the words we speak, the food we take, our sleep, our laughter, ev’ry sense; learn peace through holy penitence.” This verse from the Lenten hymn “Again We Keep This Solemn Fast” (number 474 in the hymnal if you’re curious) encapsulates an important goal of our Lenten observance that is reflected in the Church’s liturgy. Through the discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the spiritual wisdom of the Church invites us to reflective silence, to a simpler way of living, and thus to a more profound reliance on God’s providence.
During the Lenten season, the decorations in the sanctuary are to be minimal, symbolizing the season’s penitential quality. The Church calls for musical instruments to be used in the Mass only to support singing. Increased silence during liturgical celebrations is encouraged. Certain prayers, such as the Gloria and the Te Deum are omitted during the Lenten season. The Mass during Lent reflects the spiritual reality of our practice and helps us to enter more deeply into that prayerful attitude that focuses us on God. Lent provides us with the opportunity to simplify, get back to the essential elements of the spiritual life, and be renewed in our faith.
Reflecting these universal practices of the Church, you will notice very minimal decorations in our sanctuary during Lent. We will chant the proper parts of the Mass in Latin, following the same melody we are already familiar with from our use of it with English words over the last six weeks. Perhaps the most noticeable practice we will observe is a silent recessional procession at the conclusion of Mass. Exiting the Church in silence will serve as a reminder of the sobriety of our liturgical celebrations in Lent, as well as providing a moment for quiet reflection before the congregation disperses. Incidentally, the practice of singing a hymn at the end of Mass is not required by any liturgical norm of the Church. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says nothing about a hymn being sung during the procession, and the Roman Missal itself states that after the final blessing and dismissal, “… the Priest venerates the altar as usual with a kiss, as at the beginning. After making a profound bow with the ministers, he withdraws.” In the long tradition of the Church, the procession after Mass was often accompanied by an organ postlude, or by the singing of one of the Marian antiphons, such as the Salve Regina. The use of a closing hymn is a recent development, though no liturgical instruction requires such a hymn.
May our liturgical celebrations during this Lenten season help us to live out the words quoted at the beginning of this column: “More sparing, therefore, let us make, the words we speak, the food we take, our sleep, our laughter, ev’ry sense; learn peace through holy penitence.”