During Lent, this intense time of spiritual renewal, the church calls us to narrow our focus to the redemption and mercy extended to us by Jesus. Our minds and hearts are centered on the altar, which will lead us to the paschal mystery of triduum. We carefully strip away all other customary accompaniment to liturgy.
Environments are minimal, perhaps relying on purple fabric alone. Reddish purple; blood red purple is suggested. It is unlike the bluish purple of Advent. However, this shade of red/purple is very difficult to find, so you may see the Advent purple. Your parish may incorporate a few bare branches or rough rocks. The environment reflects our soul’s journey at this time; we are bare, dry and broken, seeking the transformation of new life. You will not be seeing any flowers or blooming plants until Laetare Sunday (March 18). If there is a funeral and flowers are left behind, they are moved out of the church.
The liturgical music of Lent also takes on a more somber nature. The GIRM directs the use of the organ and other instruments only as is necessary to sustain the singing. You may be singing more music a capella, or relying on chant or the singing of psalms. You will not hear Alleluias. That word of sheer ecstasy and praise of God lies in rest until the Easter Vigil, when it will break forth in triumphant victory. Hymns will support the theme of repentance, change, trust in the Lord and the intercession of the saints on our behalf. You may actually be singing the litany of saints during Lent. In addition, you may hear the final blessing augmented by a prayer over the people.
Perhaps what you will experience the most of during Lent, is silence. The liturgies of Lent seek silence from us. We are to contemplate more deeply on the words of Scripture and look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s grace. And yes, we will feel a little discomfort, since we are used to living a life that is filled with sound. As you encounter those first periods of extended silence you probably will hear coughs, the shuffling of feet, the flipping of hymnal pages as people battle with 30 seconds of silence that feels more like 30 minutes.
These are the days of our desert liturgies. During this Lenten time, extensive decorations or elaborate music will be noticeably absent. All that remains is just us the community and Jesus, who invites us into the desert with him to fast and pray.
Zahorik is director of worship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh.