16 February 2017, The Tablet

Music at a time of penitence

by Frances Novillo


For Lent, choices of hymns, Psalms and chants should express a special sensitivity to the solemn and transformative purpose of the weeks before Easter. There is a wide range of material available

during lent, carefully chosen music helps Catholics deepen their experience of this transformative season. Hymns such as “Again We Keep This Solemn Fast” and Alan Hommerding’s “From Ashes to the Living Font” explicitly express the Lenten focus on prayer, fasting and charity, and may be sung to familiar tunes (melodies commonly associated with “When I Survey …” and “Amazing Grace”, respectively).

Newer Lent repertoire such as “Return to God” by Marty Haugen and Tom Read’s “Ashes to Beauty” link personal devotions such as prayer and fasting with charitable works.

Lent presents a good opportunity to review parish musical practices and ensure that these promote prayer among all present. For example, do the musicians and singers arrive in good time to set up and sit quietly or sing gently in the moments before Mass, helping the congregation to gather in church prayerfully? Are there enough hymn books available for the whole congregation to join in singing their prayer at Mass?

Consider how effectively the lyrics and delivery of music at Sunday Mass motivates worshippers to act charitably during Lent. The Lenten fast can be reflected in parish music-making by simply “giving up” something musical during Lent, for example, using instruments only to accompany singing; singing in unison where the music is usually in harmony; singing unaccompanied; omitting percussion or descants where these are common; choosing a simpler Mass setting, for example, Christopher Walker’s Belmont Mass or the Missal chants.

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