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Musical Musings: Lent

A Creative Penitential Rite

by Gary D. Penkala

It is the duty of the liturgist (and anyone else associated with liturgical planning) to be aware of the varying degrees of importance attached to different parts of the Mass. Where are the high points? Which parts are less important? As the Church follows the life and works of Jesus in the liturgical year, it becomes meaningful to accentuate certain portions of the liturgy, owing to the nature of the season being celebrated. For instance, in the Christmas season, the Gloria (the Hymn of the Angels) is appropriately emphasized. Likewise, during the Easter season (Easter Vigil through Pentecost) the great acclamation Alleluia and the Rite of Sprinkling become the Christian's affirmation of the reality of the resurrection and the baptismal significance thereof. In approaching Lent, we should remember that the Penitential Rite has heightened significance in this penitential season. How can the Penitential Rite communicate the spirit and mood of Lent in your parish?

In looking for creative approaches to the Penitential Rite, we must remember that creativity is not total freedom, but is freedom based on certain rubrics and options available to us. We should look to the Church's authoritative texts (and their explanations) rather than "inventing" our own local reforms. If this rite is generally recited throughout the year, singing the text will itself lend uniqueness to the Lenten season of preparation.

Penitential Rite A incorporates the "Confiteor" and "Kyrie eleison" from the older Tridentine liturgy, although in a slightly altered form. Creativity may be expressed in the "Kyrie" litany which follows the recited "Confiteor." There are numerous settings of this litany in hymnals and worship aids. Kyrie litanies ("Lord, have mercy...") from sources other than your parish hymnal are readily usable, as only two copies of music are necessary -- one for the cantor and one for the organist. If the melody is simple, the congregation can easily respond without printed music. The litany may even be improvised by the cantor. The numerous Gregorian chant Kyries, many of fond memory, must not be overlooked!

Penitential Rite B contains, in quite direct style, an admission of guilt and a plea for God's mercy ("Lord, we have sinned against you. Lord, have mercy. Lord, show us your mercy and love. And grant us your salvation."). These four phrases are short enough that some aspiring composer in the parish might easily set them to music, thus establishing a certain parish "identity" for the Lenten season. Most hymnals also contain at least one musical setting of this option.

While Penitential Rite A offers the most freedom in terms of musical settings, Rite C allows for much creativity with the text as well as the setting. The invocations (always positive acclamations addressed to Christ, rather than supplications) may be borrowed from other texts of the Mass (readings, prayers, hymns) and chanted to simple formulæ. The Sacramentary offers eight examples to aid in our constructing original invocations for the parish. Remember that prayer in the Penitential Rite is directed solely toward Christ and is in no way Trinitarian (the triple formula, with Christ mentioned second notwithstanding).

A solemn chanted processional may be combined with a sung Greeting, Penitential Rite and Opening Prayer, giving a unified Introductory Rite in the spirit of the Lenten season. One such processional for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, adapted from the Book of Common Prayer (but totally within the bounds of orthodox Catholic liturgy) will be available from CanticaNOVA Publications in the future. Check back at this web site for details.

The Penitential Rite may thus be emphasized by singing. One of the above techniques may be used throughout Lent or five different styles may be used. In any case, the sung Penitential Rite will unify the season and create a suitable atmosphere by its prominence.

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