Lent offers a reflective focus

By | March 9, 2011

“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.” So speaks (or rather sings) the responsorial psalm for the first Sunday of Lent. This psalm is so appropriate for the Lenten season that it can be used every week as a “seasonal psalm.” It captures the spirit of Lent. As we accompany the catechumens in their preparations for baptism, we also prepare to renew our baptismal vows at Easter. Our preparation consists of consciously turning away from sinfulness and in a spirit of repentance seeking to become closer to God.

But even before this psalm, we may have noticed a “penitential flavor” in the first prayers, called the gathering or introductory rite. One of the purposes of this rite is to set each weekly celebration of the Mass within the context of the liturgical season. Every season has its own character and focus. On this Sunday the gathering rite will differ from last Sunday which was still in Ordinary Time.

During Lent some parishes attempt to set a more reflective mood by using soft music or encouraging everyone to sit in silence before Mass begins. The entrance procession may be eliminated as ministers enter from the sacristy. They sit in silence with the assembly until a song begins or the presider stands and makes the sign of the cross. The procession could be simplified to include only the cross. The entrance song will speak of Lenten themes and more than likely be in a minor key. If instruments are used, they will be used sparingly. The penitential rite is often sung, giving added emphasis to those prayers which speak of sorrow for sin or praise of God’s mercy. During this season only we may use the penitential posture of kneeling. There is no Gloria, so that we will appreciate its joy when it returns in the Easter season. The introductory rite is completed by the opening prayer. Some parishes weave one piece of music through the gathering song and the penitential rite.

As the gathering rite helps us enter into the solemn spirit of these weeks we may begin to feel the call of Lent to examine our lives, let our hearts be changed so we can renew our commitment to our Christian faith. And so we turn more towards God who stands ever ready to forgive us and give us the grace to change.


Johnston is the former director of worship at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Manitowoc.

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