40 Days and 40-Day Hymns

The Season of Lent is always a conversation starter in the Episcopal Church. Some like to refer to all the liturgical rules for Lent: no Alleluias, the use of purple damask or plain muslin paraments, more somber music. Some like to discuss the true meaning of Lent: giving up something, a paring away of the excesses if you will, to allow more time for God’s voice to speak. Some like to regale “all those 40-days hymns in the hymnal.” (Yes, it is possible to plan an entire liturgy using only 40-days hymns, lest we forget the exact length of Lent.)

You will notice some differences in worship in our parish during Lent: thought-provoking hymn and anthem texts, simpler service music settings (Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei), a simpler Psalm tone, carefully chosen organ voluntaries, purple paraments and vestments and veiled crosses. However, you might notice a continuation of simple flowers at the altar, remembering that  Sundays are in Lent and not of Lent. As the old saying goes, “Every Sunday is a little Easter.”

Ash Wednesday is done very well in this parish, not because I have something to do with its planning but because as a parish we focus and take it seriously. We have numerous service times during the day, one to hopefully meet everyone schedule requirements and liturgical desires. At 7 a.m. we recite Psalm 51 in its entirety, at 12:15 p.m. we sing 40-days hymns, and at 6:30 p.m. the choir sings the beautiful but chilling 16th-century setting of Psalm 51.

The First Sunday in Lent is also a significant celebration of the Lord’s Day in this place. At the 8:00 service we recite The Great Litany, and at 10:30 service we sing it in procession. The Great Litany is the oldest extant original-English liturgy that we have. Indeed, all the bases are covered by this great prayer, as we pray for ourselves, each other and the world.

The Parish Choir will sing an absolute gem of the choral literature this Sunday (Feb. 14) at 10:30, the Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) “Lead me, Lord.” This anthem makes its mark in its simplicity and necessary control, never escaping the liturgical box. And what better prayer with which to begin our Lenten journey:

Lead me, Lord, lead me in Thy righteousness, make Thy way plain before my face. 
For it is Thou, Lord, Thou, Lord, only, that makest me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8, 5:8)

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at 11:42