“Less is more” serves as the Lenten rule of thumb for Maura Slon, liturgy coordinator at St. Paul Parish in Webster.
“You’re taking away so you’ll be filled. You can’t be filled unless you’re emptied,” she explained. “People give things up, fasting and whatnot. So you have to convey, by what you do at church, that this is something they should be spending six or seven weeks on.”
Slon cited several environmental adjustments at her parish in keeping with this emphasis:
* The baptismal font is moved away from its normal spot near the church entrance; most of the water is removed from it; and no baptisms are performed during Lent.
* All plants are removed, including flowers from the altar area.
* Banners that are normally suspended inside the church are taken down.
“Ours is more of a cleaning out, taking everything down to its bare bones. Hopefully the focus will be more on the cross, the liturgy, and candidates and catechumens. I guess you could say it’s a way of eliminating distractions,” Slon said, noting that St. Paul does feature one addition during Lent — a fabric erected outside the church, with the seasonal color of violet.
These changes are in keeping with the Sourcebook for Sundays and Seasons, issued by Liturgical Training Publications, which notes: “The environment of the church and its surrounding areas will be one of the major ways that the faithful enter into the season of the Lenten journey, the mode of which is more somber and subdued.” Slon said that promoting such an atmosphere “cleans the palate for Easter” when flowers and banners will be out in full force.
“You can’t think about how you’re going to celebrate Lent until you figure out how you’re going to celebrate Easter. You can’t make Lent bigger,” said Ginny Miller, associate director of the diocesan Office of Liturgy.
Sourcebook for Sundays and Seasons cites the Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 252: “During Lent the altar is not to be decorated with flowers, and the use of musical instruments is allowed only to support the singing.” These points also are noted in the 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Nos. 305 and 313. The only exceptions occur on Laetere Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent (March 18); the solemnities of St. Joseph (March 19) and the Annunciation of the Lord (March 26); and the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter (Feb. 22). “On these days the environment should reflect the celebratory nature of these special liturgies,” the sourcebook states.
Miller, who also serves as music coordinator at Sacred Heart Cathedral, said there are no musical preludes or postludes during Lent, and that the “Alleluia” is not said in prayer or sung in liturgy. She tends to utilize a capella singing, such as Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd … “) during the penitential rite.
Miller further noted that Lenten liturgies tend to contain longer pauses after readings and after Communion.
“Silence is hard for people because we always have a million things going through our mind, multitasking,” Miller observed. “(But) it gives us time to get in touch with the God within. … We ask ourselves, as a community, ‘how am I living out my baptismal commitment?'” she said.