Our Catholic liturgy allows for the different levels. Throughout the year, those who come to Mass on weekdays notice that the Mass is simpler than on Sundays. So Lent is a time when we keep the liturgy a little more “quiet.” The practices of Lent put us in a more contemplative mood, allowing us to focus on the penitential nature of this season. They also prepare us for the fortissimo of the Easter celebration, making the joy all the more obvious by contrast with Lent. Some of the observances are universal in the Church, and some are choices that we make at St. Malachy to enhance the somber atmosphere of Lent.
Among the universal Catholic practices, there is no “Glory to God” or “Alleluia” during Lent, and we are discouraged from decorating with flowers in the sanctuary. Notice how these items stand out when you come to Mass at Easter.
I have always liked some of the other adaptations that are available for Lent. Some speak of the penitential nature of the season, such as when we kneel for the Penitential Act of the Mass. Kneeling is a posture of reverence, but it is primarily a posture of penitence. Kneeling helps us express more clearly our need for God’s great mercy.
Other adaptations seem to me a way of expressing what my musical analogy said of keeping things simpler to prepare for the glory of Easter. I do less singing of the various Mass parts during Lent, and we dispense with the hymn at the recessional. We do not use the bells at the Institution Narrative (the Consecration) in the Eucharistic Prayer. And this year I decided to set aside the Book of the Gospels during Lent. All of these give us a sense that we are not at our greatest time of celebration just yet.
One change will carry over into the Easter season. We have the choice of substituting the Apostles’ Creed for the Nicene Creed at Mass, and I like to do that for Lent as something simpler. Liturgists often suggest using the Apostles’ Creed during the Easter season because Easter is a time to remember our baptism, as the Apostles’ Creed is part of the Baptism liturgy.
So if you find yourself next to a car blasting out rap music, take that as a reminder that Lent answers our need to quiet our hearts to listen to the message of God.