In Catholic Churches across the world, it is clear that we are in waiting and preparation. The altar frontals and vestments reflect a deep, rich violet, decorations in the sanctuary are somewhat more sparse than usual, the Gloria is absent from Mass, and the readings speak of one who is to come. It is fairly common knowledge that the Church mandates these changes in the liturgy for our benefit for, without a deep Advent journey, how can we fully appreciate the joy of Christmas? However, it is not as commonly known that the church also regulates the music for the expectant and penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. What does the Church ask of its musicians to augment these seasons, and how might you see these changes in effect here in our Parish?
Since the First Sunday of Advent, you have no doubt noticed a different tone in the music of the Mass. Perhaps most notably, the use of the organ has been reduced substantially from its typical place within Mass during the other seasons. There is no prelude before Mass, no Postlude following Mass, and no solo organ music within Mass resulting in far more silence than most other Sundays; the Alleluia is chanted without accompaniment as is the Ordinary of the Mass (Sanctus, Mysterium Fidei, and Agnus Dei); and when the organ is used it is much softer and more subdued than normal, fading into the background against the voices of the faithful. These changes, though sometimes interpreted differently by different Parishes and musicians, are called for a clearly as the color of the clergy’s vestments.
There are a number of documents that are responsible for expressing the Church’s expectations for Sacred Music within Mass. Musicam Sacram, the Instruction on Sacred Music from 1967, states:
“66. Solo playing of musical instruments is forbidden during Advent, Lent, the Easter triduum, and at services and Masses for the dead.”
Similarly, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, or GIRM, states:
“313. In Advent the organ and other musical instruments should be used with a moderation that is consistent with the season’s character and does not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.”
Although the GIRM uses less severe language than that of Musica Sacra, the modern document still affirms that there should be a distinct change in the music of Advent, and the former document provides a solidly traditional practice to achieve said distinction.
However, the traditional exceptions to these prohibitions are for Solemnities that occur within the penitential seasons (when even the Gloria is sung and festive vestments worn), and the “rose” Sundays of which today is one. The Third Sunday of Advent, known as “Gaudete Sunday” temporarily eases these restrictions to renew our hope in the coming of the Lord. Its counterpart, “Laetare Sunday,” takes place on the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Rose colored vestments are worn, the organ sings (though still in moderation), and the church sings “Rejoice!”
“Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete….”
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice….
– Introit for the Third Sunday of Advent [Excerpt]