As you enter the nave for worship, what do you see that is different from just a few weeks ago?
One thing you’ll notice is that the color purple is all around you. The cross behind the altar and the cross that leads the procession are covered with purple. Even the pulpit, where the gospel is proclaimed and preached, has a new purple covering. It is said that this rich color reminds us of repentance. It is also known to have been an ancient color for royalty, so it also signifies solemnity. Repentance and solemnity are two of the hallmarks of Lent.
As this forty day (excluding Sundays) season begins, you might also hear some things you haven’t heard recently. St. Mark’s long-time tradition has been to change the Holy Communion setting, including its complementary liturgical music, with each new season. This year we took that a step further by introducing Holy Communion Setting Nine from Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
The Kyrie (“Lord, Have Mercy”) is deeply reverent with hints of jazz that give it a soulful, contemplative bent. The Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) also has a lushness that can’t be rushed. (Listen to the organ under the second syllable of “Ho-san-na.) As we get further into Lent, we’ll likely introduce the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”).
Interestingly, when setting nine first appeared in some provisional materials, many thought it would be too difficult for congregational singing, but recent discussions on social media show there are places where it has become a favorite setting. Scott Weidler, the past Program Director for Music and Worship in the ELCA, has this to say:
Knowing that, during the ELW development, some thought setting 9 was too difficult . . . I (among others) predicted that it would take a while for it to be really noticed and become learned and loved. Here we are -- 10 years later -- having this conversation. I love it!
There is something else about the sounds of Lent, something more conspicuous by its absence than by its presence – and that is the ancient acclamation of praise, “Alleluia.”
|Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and the Imposition of Ashes (Wikipedia)|
Many liturgical churches hold a custom (the practice is a tradition, there is no liturgical mandate to eschew the word during Lent or any time) of “burying” the Alleluia during the season of Lent so that its first utterance at the Easter Vigil is especially joyous. At St. Mark’s, our tradition has become one that includes ringing bells in darkness as the altar candles are lit, the organ fills the nave with an exuberant eruption, and we all sing that first “Alleluia” together.
So, on Transfiguration Sunday we sang an eleventh century hymn to honor this practice that dates to at least the fifth century:
Alleluia cannot always be our song while here below:
Alleluia our transgressions make us for a while forgo;
for the solemn time is coming when our tears for sin shall flow. (ELW 318)
As we sang, the assisting minister carefully folded a banner with that wonderful word emblazoned on it, then laid it in a box. When we conclude our Lenten journey, when we come to keep glad Easter with the faithful saints on high, we’ll sing it together with all of the joy of those who are redeemed.
Now you know what’s in the box.
The box is resting under the altar. It was made by the son of Phyllis Green as a temporary vessel for her ashes during her funeral service. It was given to St. Mark’s to be used in the same manner for future funeral services.