We are off again on our annual Lenten pilgrimage to the upper room, to Calvary, and to the empty Tomb - those "mighty works whereby our Lord God hast given us life and immortality." In the Gospel for today (the Thursday after Ash Wednesday) that agenda is set for us. Jesus announces to his disciples that “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” But then Jesus tells us that his disciples, if they - if we! - will truly be his disciples - cannot be mere spectators in the Lord's journey to Jerusalem, but must actually be participants: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it." Lent is a time in which we sharpen and intensify our participation in the Lord's Passion by taking up the little training crosses of our self-denial and disciplines, so that we may deepen our joyful participation in his mighty Resurrection, dying to ourselves so that Christ might live in us.
In addition to the Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, our Lenten pilgrimage is marked in our liturgy in ways that have become familiar to us: purple vestments, the absence of the Gloria and any "Alleluia" from Mass, the subdued use of the organ. We will also keep the old traditions of chanting the Litany in procession at the beginning of Mass on this the first Sunday of Lent, and of using unbleached candles, which denote sorrow and penitence, on the altar.
Another and more obtrusive alteration to the liturgy during Lent will be the use of the Merbecke setting of the Ordinary (Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei). John Merbecke (1510 - 1585) composed this simple setting for the first edition (1549) of the Book of Common Prayer on a one-note-per-syllable principle. The result is serviceable rather than beautiful, but appropriately stark for Lent and a way to mark the season with our singing. For some of you these settings will be immediately familiar as they used very commonly to be sung in Episcopal/Anglican churches (and often in Lutheran and Methodist churches as well). In any case, you may (re-)familiarize yourself with those tunes below.
We will also be singing the Merbecke setting of the Our Father. Because of the high percentage of tourists with us each Sunday (bless them), singing the Lord's Prayer has been something of a challenge - they know and default to the Roman Missal setting and concluding doxology, which is just close enough to our chant setting and text to cause deep confusion. The music director and I are hoping that a using the completely different Merbecke setting will put us all, literally, singing from the same page of music. We'll see.
Have a sober Lent!
God bless you,
Click the above image to launch a recording of Merbecke's Mass setting, including the Kyrie, the Sanctus & Benedictus, and the Agnus Dei.
A pdf of the sheet music is available here for those who are interested. The sheet music will be printed in the Sunday bulletin as well.