An effective music program for the Lenten season combines simplicity and solemnity, terms not entirely exclusive.
For the musician, Lent can be a time to tap the many resources we have available, but often overlook.
Some ideas follow.
A solemn procession of the ministers (choir, acolytes, cantor, lector, deacon, priest) could open each Lenten liturgy.
The procession might be in silence (leaving the first music as the Kyrie) or accompanied by the regular Entrance Antiphon from The Mass Propers for Lent (Penkala).
As an alternative to a hymn, try using the Common Entrance Psalm or a Gregorian chant Introit [the Church still does officially encourage the use of chant] as found in the Graduale Romanum or Graduale Simplex .
Other possibilities include one of these processionals or psalms published by CNP:
One of the more memorable liturgical moments I've experienced in the United States was the solemn opening procession at the Washington DC Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul (Episcopal).
The service, penitential in nature, began with the chanting of the Great Litany as found in the Book of Common Prayer.
Done with simplicity, dignity and grace, the procession was so captivating as to draw the entire congregation of this huge cathedral into the spirit and mood of worship.
These particular Mass settings are written for Lent:
To emphasize the important penitential nature of the season, sing the Penitential Rite at all Masses.
Numerous settings are available in various hymnals and worship aids, as well as from CNP:
See also "Twelve Simple Kyries" by Carroll Andrews, published by GIA Publications.
Generally only two copies of the music are needed, one for the cantor and one for the organist.
The use of a seasonal Common Responsorial Psalm is a legitimate and practical option.
The Church offers Psalm 51, Psalm 91 and Psalm 130 for common use during Lent.
Any setting of these psalms can be used for every Sunday during Lent, replacing the specific Responsorial Psalm for that Sunday.
To the many choices available in hymnals and worship aids may be added this one from CNP:
Likewise, one Gospel acclamation should be chosen for use during the entire season.
It might be wise to select a setting that can be sung a cappella (for use on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, when no organ should even accompany singing).
The creative and highly adaptable practice of singing a Communion Psalm can be maintained throughout Lent.
CNP publishes Communion Psalms for the Liturgical Seasons (Penkala) which contains a simple Lenten antiphon for congregation, with a different appropriate psalm for each Sunday, to be chanted by cantor or choir, all with organ accompaniment.
In viewing Lent as a calm and solemn season, why not sing the Closing Hymn without accompaniment, especially at choir Mass(es).
Choose a familiar Lenten hymn, however, and be sure the choir or cantor leads.
The Lenten Marian chant Ave Regina cælorum would be a wonderful piece to teach the congregation, using it to close all the Lenten liturgies.
Some parishes even opt to completely eliminate the Closing Song throughout Lent, departing in silence.
Refrain from using any solo organ music, except on Lætare Sunday.
There is great Lenten music for choirs.
See our list of Lenten anthems and motets.
As always, our Liturgical Planning Pages are there to help you make decisions about music for any Sunday of any season, including Lent.
During Lent, just as the vestments change to violet and the structure of the liturgy is altered (no Gloria, no Alleluia), so too should the general mood of the music change.
The music used, or lack of music, should reinforce the theme of renewal and conversion and should set the season of Lent apart.
People should know that these five Sundays are different.