Friday, February 8, 2008


Here's a post from Lyn the Organ-ic Chemist on music for Lent. Here she accurately mentions the fact that in the parish that I've been subbing at (Blessed Sacrament), the organ has been ditched in favor of the piano for Lent.

The question that often circles my head is "Why would one want to ditch an organ during a solemn season for an instrument that is often far less solemn?" Usually when one thinks "piano" at Mass, one doesn't normally think solemn. The piano in many parishes (at least via my experiences) lends itself to music of a more popular set of styles (e.g., those ditties often found in Glory and Praise and Gather). To many, it seems that their version of "solemn" may lend to songs that are popular in style, but "mellow". Here's where Eagle's Wings often gets chosen as the Psalm 91 setting (Psalm 91 is the Proper responsorial Psalm for the First Sunday of Lent, Year C, but also the seasonal Psalm for Lent, and the base for all of the Propers in the Gregorian Missal for the First Sunday of Lent). Here's where Shepherd Me, O God gets hit up for the Psalm 23 setting on the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Other sacro-pop ditties may apply.

Yes, Lent is a totally different season from all the rest in more ways than one. Advent is a penitential season that prepares us for Christmas. However, as we await the Savior's birth, there is nothing bloody or deadly that separates Advent from Christmas. Lent on the other hand seems to focus so much more on sin and repentance (Advent does too, but on a lesser scale). Before Jesus can rise from the dead, he has to die. You see, in Advent, we await for Christ to be born, then he's born. In Lent and Holy Week, Jesus makes his way through the events that lead to his Passion and Death. It isn't until after all that when we can celebrate his Resurrection! To me, if we didn't have this important series of events to commemorate and celebrate, what good is Christmas?

It is for this reason that we do tend to take something off our music during the season of Lent. But instead of switching to a piano, why not just take something off the organ? Or perhaps lead some of our music a cappella? Here are some tips to really make Lent sound like Lent. Now, for those who say "I hate Lent music. It's so depressing," c'est la vie. It's all a part of liturgical life.

1. Use the organ for your traditional hymnody, but use one or two less voices. If you're used to adding a mixture for your hymns, drop the mixture and just go 8'-4'-2', and maybe for middle verses, drop the 2' also. Avoid the use of the pedal reed that you might use on the last verse (avoid any manual reeds as well - solo OR chorus).

2. If your parish has never used, or has used very little chant, now is the perfect time to start. You'd obviously have to take a couple of weeks before Lent to start teaching stuff, but that's OK. Come Ash Wednesday your flock will be ready. What's lovely about using chant Mass settings and chant hymns is that you have the perfect excuse to go a cappella.

3. Some examples of introducing chants would be the hymns Attende, Domine and Parce, Domine. The short refrains in Latin are plenty for the people to pick up in one sitting. For parishes who aren't used to singing Mass ordinaries in Latin, the Jubilate Deo is the perfect place to start (and don't stop using it after Lent - let your congregation know that this can be used year round). More advanced parishes who have done their share and more of chant should consider Mass XVII on the Sundays of Lent. This is the Mass designated in the Kyriale as per Dominicis Adventi et Quadragesimae (for the Sundays of Advent and Lent).

4. For the Liturgy of the Word, consider the use of a Psalm Tone for the Responsorial Psalm. The most common tone is Psalm Tone 8G. However, even better tones for the season would be Tone 1D, Tone 2, Tone 5, Tone 7a, and Tonus Peregrinus. All of these tones can be found here. Also, consider using a chant setting of the Gospel Acclamation. You could use a Psalm Tone in the same way you would use it for the Responsorial Psalm. There is also the adaptation that David Hurd took frok the Kyrie Orbis Factor (Mass XI) for the acclamations Praise and honor to you, O Lord Jesus Christ, and Glory and praise to you, O Lord Jesus Christ. With that setting, it is recommended that Tonus Peregrinus be used to sing the versicle.

5. Don't be afraid to put some Latin antiphons from the Graduale Romanum or the Gregorian Missal, or even some English antiphons from By Flowing Waters, the brainchild of Dr. Paul Ford. Though By Flowing Waters isn't an "official" liturgical book, it is a book of chants that IS approved by the USCCB for use at Mass (again - don't stop using these once Lent is done, just because Lent is done - these sources are good for use year round).

6. If you can help it, ditch the closing hymn. The GIRM doesn't mention it anyways. You may or may not wish to use the hymn of praise/meditation hymn option that IS mentioned. If not, hey - silence is golden.

7. And, to the Reverend Fathers, now's just as good a time as any to try out some good old fashioned ad Orientem. After all, it's not just for the Extraordinary Form.

8. Finally, like the Curt Jester says, ...don't put on a gloomy face like the hypocrites. :-)



Richard Chonak said...

Hey, chant is not a penance!

Brian Michael Page said...

You're right - it isn't. But Lent would make a good starting point for it if one hasn't yet - and keep it going.