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Worship in Lent

During Lent, we change things up a bit in our worship. Three things you can anticipate:

Burying the Alleluias. Long-time Episcopalians know that we forgo the saying and singing of “Alleluia” during Lent so it can burst from the tomb with joy at Easter. So, resist the temptation to add Alleluia to the dismissal! (We’ll forgive you if you forget). The Great Litany. The opening act of worship on this First Sunday of Lent is the recitation or chanting of the Great Litany. This year we will use the Great Litany from Enriching Our Worship. The sound of a bell will be your signal to stand and prepare for the litany. Plainsong Psalms. During this season we will use the ancient form known as plainsong (also called plainchant) for the psalms. We will be using the same tune throughout Lent so you will quickly catch on. I suggest you listen to the cantor for the first verse or two and then join the chant when you feel comfortable. Some instructions:

  • The first three notes [intonation] are used only for the beginning verse. All the following verses begin with the Reciting Note.

  • The Reciting Note (RN) is used for text up to the / symbol.

  • Words following the / symbol are sung syllabically to each note.

  • The * indicates a breath.

  • Parenthetical notes ( ) are only used when needed.

  • Notes indicate pitch. Natural word accents supply the rhythm.

Here is the tone we will use throughout Lent:

The first verse of Psalm 25 appears as follows: To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my / trust in you;* let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies tri/umph over me. How do we chant this verse using this plainsong tone?

  • The first three words are sung by the cantor to the first three notes: “To you, O” and “Lord” is the beginning of the Reciting Note.

  • The words “Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my” are sung on the same note with natural rhythm. As with speaking, we put short pauses at semicolons and commas.

  • At the slash / we shift up one note for the word “trust” and “in you” return to the pitch of the reciting note.

  • Take a breath at the * and the second half of the verse resumes on the same pitch as we sing with natural rhythm: “le me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies . . .”

  • The word “triumph” gets split. The first syllable stays on the reciting note and the second syllable drops by half a step. The next two words have one note per syllable: “o-ver me.”

I know this looks complicated, but it really is quite simple, elegant, and beautiful. By the end of Lent, you will all be singing plainsong like pros and be ready to join a monastery. Enjoy!

Russ Hennings


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