Music and Liturgy ideas for Lent

The season of Lent can often feel like a period of “austerity measures and government cuts“. Not unlike the ones we have become increasingly accustomed to in these days of financial evolution.

Music and liturgy ideas for lent into the wilderness

Perhaps it’s more helpful though to think of it as a period of investment, in preparation for the great spiritual return at Eastertide. If we enter deeply into these days of reconciliation and renewal, the joy and hope of the Resurrection can be experienced more deeply too.

For most of us, our Sunday Masses will be key milestones of this Lenten journey. Here are a few musical ideas that might help set the tone for the season.

Sing the Penitential Act

During Ordinary Time we tend to encourage a sung Gloria and spoken Penitential Act, to maintain the musical balance of the Opening Rites of the Mass.  The season of Lent is a perfect for a sung Penitential Rite – not only because the Gloria is omitted – but also because it so beautifully reflects the spirit of the season.  The plaintive, minor intervals of the setting from the Mass of the Holy Trinity seem particularly apt.  It can be used with the spoken invocations as recorded with Archbishop Bernard Longley on Rejoice n Sing Vol. 3, or as a straight call and response.

Listen now: Mass of the Holy Trinity – Penitential Act

Sing the Responsorial Psalms

The Responsorial Psalms for Sunday’s in Lent are like a soundtrack for the season. The beautiful texts echo themes of God’s mercy and compassion, and our need for repentance and conversion. If your parish (or school) has not yet developed the tradition of a sung (rather than spoken) Responsorial Psalm, this Lent would be the perfect time to change that.

Click here to listen to our Responsorial Psalms for Lent, Year A
Click here to listen to our Responsorial Psalms for Lent, Year B
Click here to listen to our Responsorial Psalms for Lent, Year C
Click here to listen to our Common Responsorial Psalms for Lent

Listen now: Psalm 50: Have Mercy On Us – Common Psalm for Lent

Use Instrumental Music at the Preparation of the Gifts

Another simple way to create a different mood and sense of season would be to have instrumental music rather than the usual “offertory song”. The Responsorial Psalm itself would be a perfect candidate for an instrumental reprise. Hearing it again will subconsciously call to mind the text and the words will hopefully resound in the hearts of the congregation as they prepare for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

If you tend to opt for a song about “bread and wine”, just avoiding those for a while and sticking with more Lent focussed songs will make a great difference.

Use the same Acclamations throughout the Season

Using the same Mass Setting throughout the 5 Sundays of Lent is another powerful way to evoke a sense of season. Choose acclamations which are a little bit more “muted” in mood – like the St Joseph’s the Worker Acclamations from Rejoice n Sing Vol. 3 – so that you can later create contrast with a lively, more upbeat setting during Eastertide.

Use the Born for This Presentation

Born for This is a moving and powerful depiction of the Stations of the Cross in words, music, and drama. The beauty of Born for This as a production is that it is accessible on many different levels and can be presented in many ways, depending on the resources you have available.

If you are not able to arrange for a full production at your school or parish, you may use some of the songs from Born for This. Because each song depicts a Station of the Cross, it is a good way to remind people of the Crucifixion narrative as we approach Holy Week.

You can listen to Born for This for free on Spotify here.

Any other suggestions? Please join the conversation and share you own thoughts and ideas in the comments below…

4 thoughts on “Music and Liturgy ideas for Lent

  1. Hi CJM,
    Do you have any of the Psalms used during Holy Week. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday Vigi. Easter Sunday I have. Hope all is going well with your schedule.
    Take Care
    God Bless
    Peter Benson (Liverpool)

  2. Hello,

    I have recently discovered your website – I have only been running our Parish music group for 18 months or so. There is much of value on these pages; I particularly like Psalm 129 for the 5th Sunday of Lent Year A – quite beautiful.

    However, could I take issue with point three above. My understanding is that, during Lent, we should not really be using instrumental music; the only music we play should be to accompany and support the singing.

    Now, I have broken this rubric on occasion; for example I introduced a post-Communion hymn that was new to our parish but particularly suitable for Lent, so our group played it while the assembly received Communion and we all began to sing the hymn once everyone had received.

    However, if I am not mistaken, it is not something we are encouraged to do during Lent.


    1. You are right, Andrew. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) does say that in Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed only in order to support the singing. Exceptions being Laetare Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts. In our experience though, the moment around the offertory and preparation of the gifts doesn’t lend itself to a still, prayerful silence – especially if there is a collection also. In addition, most parishes seem to get by on a very narrow repertoire of “offertory songs”, which they’d do well to just omit entirely for a season like Lent. So, our suggestion of instrumental music is a sort of – “pastoral compromise”. Perhaps more spirit of the law than letter of the law…

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