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Musical Musings: Lent
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Enter in Lent

by Gary D. Penkala

Judging from recent CanticaNOVA Publications orders and other indicators, the idea of foregoing a "hymn" at the beginning of Mass is gaining popularity. Many music directors are securing copies of my Mass Propers for Lent with a greater interest in singing the Entrance Song the way the Roman Rite actually envisions it. The new GIRM calls for the proper Introit to be sung from the Roman Gradual, or an easier Introit from the Simple Gradual, or a psalm from collections approved by the bishops' conferences, or only lastly some other suitable liturgical song approved by the bishops' conferences. It is only by means of this fourth option that the ubiquitous "Opening Hymn" can be rationalized. The hymn as such is quite foreign to the Mass – its use in the Roman Rite is limited to the Liturgy of the Hours where it has great significance at the beginning of each Hour (there is no other action going on as the hymn is sung on its own merits).

At the beginning of Mass, the responsorial mode of singing an antiphon between several psalm verses is much more in keeping with the intent of the rubrics than a hymn. Perhaps on occasion, or even for a season like Lent, we might dispense with the metrical hymn and return to our liturgical roots. Here are some ideas:

  • Chant the proper Introit from the Graduale Romanum, Graduale Simplex or Liber usualis. These are written in chant notation, and would best be sung by a small schola. Are there a few good singers who would enjoy the challenge of learning a new "musical language" to sing these beautiful chants? And, yes indeed, the schola can at times sing the Entrance Song alone. [See GIRM #48: "The singing at this time is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone."]
  • Set the proper antiphon texts to simple Gregorian psalm tones for the congregation; have the choir or cantor chant psalm verses between, using the same tone. This would work equally well with Anglican chant tones or Meinrad tones (both of which are superbly suited to English text). You can find these already set for you in CNP's Mass Propers for Lent
  • Use a common antiphon throughout Lent, drawn from any of the proper antiphons of the season, with a different psalm sung each week. Consider the Seven Penitential Psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) ... perhaps on Ash Wednesday, the 5 Sundays in Lent, and a Lenten Penitential Service. Any psalm tone can be used ... what about an original composition?
  • Look to one of the many settings of the common Responsorial Psalm for Lent (Psalms 51, Psalm 91, Psalm 130). Use one throughout Lent, or choose two and alternate weeks, or choose two and link Lent 1 & Lent 2 and the last three Sundays (where the scrutinies occur).
  • Use a Responsorial Psalm for each Sunday at the entrance, but from a different yearly cycle. While these were specified because of their connection to the First Reading (which would not be read in other years), they all amplify various Lenten themes.
  • Tap into those familiar chant "hymns," which are really in antiphon/verse format. Try:
    Attende Domine
    Draw Near, O Lord [the same, in English]
    Parce Domine
    Ubi caritas
  • Use one verse of a short, familiar hymn as an "antiphon," with psalm verses sung to a tone derived from the harmonies of one of the phrases of the same hymn. Possibilities:
    Again We Keep This Solemn Fast (verse 1)
    At the Name of Jesus (verse 1)
    Have Mercy, Lord, on Us (any verse)
    Lord Jesus, As We Turn from Sin (verse 1)
    Out of the Depths (verse 1)
    The Glory of These Forty Days (verse 1)
    These Forty Days of Lent (verse 1)
  • Many of the ostinati or canons of the Taizé repertoire are suitable as an entrance antiphon. For example, Salvator mundi, salva nos would work well (and can even be sung as a round); perhaps with verses from the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah [see the First Reading for Good Friday]. This Taizé piece can be found in Worship – Third Edition as #425.
  • Check out the unusual Roman Basilica Processionals from CNP. These are written with an English antiphon, and verses from various sources (psalms, breviary hymns, liturgy) in English, Italian and Latin. Each of these seven processionals is inspired by one of the pilgrimage basilicas in Rome, and takes its antiphon and verses from appropriate texts. For example (and these would work well during Lent):
    • Serve God in Love [Saint Lawrence-outside-the-Walls]: antiphon from the Mass for the Feast of Saint Lawrence, verses from Psalm 112 and the hymn Ubi caritas
    • We Should Glory in the Cross [Holy Cross in Jerusalem]: antiphon from the Mass for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, verses from Revelation 1 & 5 and the Agnus Dei

Any of these ideas accord nicely with the intent of the rubric concerning the entrance music at Mass, although obviously the proper antiphon with the proper psalm verses is most nearly perfect. Remember, when chanting several psalm verses, it is most fitting to end the verses with the doxology, Gloria Patri or "Glory be to the Father..." All verses of a psalm certainly don't need to be used — the cantor or choir can easily chant a few verses to accompany the entrance procession, ending with the doxology. Unlike a hymn where stanzas have a progression and should generally all be sung, psalm verses can easily be excised in pairs. Hebrew poetry, rather than using rhyme and meter, contrasts or amplifies ideas in couplets, which offer complete thoughts by themselves.

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