The church I attend has a wonderful practice during Lent – a Wednesday evening service of songs and stories. It is a structured service, using the Holden Evening Prayer as the foundation, interspersed with extended scripture readings and a question (or two) for discussion. The congregation has been using this musical resource for many, many years, and although, liturgically, it was not designed for Lent, it has deep meaning for this congregation. They can’t imagine travelling through Lent together without this music as their soundtrack.
Deep spiritual seasons – like Lent – can, and I would argue, should, be paired with music. In fact, finding ways to use more, or all, of our senses should be a priority during every liturgical season. And Lent offers an invitation to begin. During Lent, practices which incorporate our bodies, such as moving around the worship space and kneeling, are more frequent. Some churches share communion weekly during Lent to heighten our experience of taste in worship. Others use visual clues such as liturgical colors and symbols to engage us visually. A common thread through these practices is that they have become familiar: they create and express shared rituals that we perform together, as a community of faith.
Like the Holden Evening Prayer service for my new church family, I want to encourage you to find a musical refrain that can become part of your church’s Lenten experience. You may not have a separate Lenten service, but your musicians could select (or even better, create) a musical work that fits your community and has meaning. There are many hymns that focus our attention during Holy Week and Easter, but Lent has its own flavor and purpose. The musical soundtrack for Lent is distinct. The selection should be something that can be sung in parts and easily memorized. And it should be something that can be sung a cappella – without instruments – from time-to-time.
Choosing a sound-scape for your liturgical practice has many benefits. We know that singing together can synchronize heart beats. A musical refrain during this season also invites your congregation to learn to listen to, and rely on, each other in sonic space, which echoes into relational space. Providing a sound track during Lent begins to synchronize hearts, minds, and bodies as we journey together toward Easter.
These Gregorian Chants make a beautiful soundtrack for Lent. May they inspire your devotional practice this coming week.