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A Lenten Customary

As we plan for the Lenten liturgies, we should consider how we want to reflect and focus on the mood of the season in the way we worship. Each church is slightly different in terms of space and liturgical practices, but here are some things we all should consider.

THE SANCTUARY should be as plain and simple as possible. In addition to having no flowers during Lent, it is also a good idea to remove all other decorations, including flags and banners. Some places veil all crosses throughout Lent, while others do so only during Holy Week. If you have a Lenten processional cross, it should replace the usual one you use on other Sundays of the year.

THE PASCHAL CANDLE should be removed from the church and stored some place, throughout the Lenten season. It would only be brought out and used for requiems or funerals that occur during Lent. Obviously, no baptisms occur during these forty days, as all baptisms are delayed until Easter Eve at the Great Vigil or until Easter Day itself.

THE ENTRANCE RITE should be different, if possible, on the Sundays of Lent. Perhaps you can enter from the side, instead of having a long procession up the center aisle as usual. Most places will want to do the Great Litany on some of the Sundays in Lent, either said or sung, either in procession around the church or with all kneeling. Some places have a prayer desk that can be placed in the center aisle to be used for this.

THE PENITENTIAL ORDER is an appropriate beginning for all services during the season. Note that the opening acclamation is the one designated for Lent and that it is used in place of the usual “Blessed be God...” form and not in addition to it. Use the Decalogue as part of this on at least one or two Sundays. Also, notice that the Penitential Order concludes with the absolution, followed by the Kyrie or Trisagion, and then the Collect of the Day.

MUSIC SELECTIONS should be appropriate for the season. See Hymns 140 thru 152 as especially appropriate for Lent, and note that Hymns 153 thru 173 are designated for Palm Sunday and Holy Week.  The “Gloria  in excelsis” and all “alleluias” are omitted during Lent, so take care to select hymns that do not have “alleluias” in them. If you are accustomed to singing the Psalm, you may want to change the tune to a different one.

TIMES OF SILENCE should be longer and more frequent than on other Sundays of the year. Particular places where you might introduce times of silence are:  before the service, in between announcing the confession and beginning to say the confession, after each lesson, after the sermon, at the designated places in the forms for the Prayers of the People, after the breaking of the bread, after all have received the Sacrament, after the service. You may want to announce when there will be such times of silence so that people won’t get anxious or think that you’ve lost your place!

INTERCESSION FORMS I, II, and V are especially suitable for Lent. You may want to use one of them instead of whichever form you use on other Sundays. You may find this a good time to sing the intercessions, using the forms S106 thru S109 in the Hymnal. With a little practice, this can be very effective in most congregations.

THE PRAYER OF CONSECRATION may be changed from the one that you ordinarily use. Prayer A is good for Lent if you use Rite II. If you use Rite I, you have two choices for the Consecration Prayer, and Lent is a good time to use the alternative one. The same goes for the post-communion prayers of Rite II.  If you use the one on page 365 all year long, perhaps you could use only the one on page 366 during Lent. Note that there are two forms of the Proper Preface for the season. Plan in advance which is most appropriate on any given Sunday. Certainly you will want to use the second one on Ash Wednesday and the first one on the First Sunday in Lent.

AT THE FRACTION, you may want to use something else, other than the “Christ our passover” sentence; if you do continue to use it, omit the “alleluias” before and after. Alternative sentences may be found in The Book of Occasional Services, 1994 on pages 17 thru 20, which may be printed in the bulletin. Take care to notice that numbers 7 thru 10 are not used during Lent. Lent is a good time to sing just the “Agnus Dei” after breaking the bread and observing a time of silence.

INSTEAD OF A BLESSING at the end of the service,The Book of Occasional Services, 1994 suggests the use of a Solemn Prayer over the People. These are found on pages 24 and 25, and it is suggested that they be said by the celebrant with both hands extended toward the congregation.

These are just a few of my suggestions to make Lent a distinctive season in our life of worship. Perhaps you have others that you have found helpful. Feel free to call me if you would like to discuss any of this or if you have questions about any of the above.

Remember that Lent is not “just for the laity,“ as one cynical old priest once observed, but for all of us. I hope that each of you seriously undertakes a personal Lenten rule of life for yourself and that you make a confession sometime between now and Easter. May God give you and all of your people a devout and holy Lent.