Traditions of Lent: Color And Music

Traditions of Lent:
Color And Music

Part 3 of 3

Faith Perspectives – February 21, 2018

By Rev. James Miller
Trinity Lutheran Church, Nashville

If you attend a liturgical church (ie: Lutheran, Catholic, UCC…) you may be familiar with Lent.

If you attend a non-liturgical church (ie: Non-Denominational, Baptist…) or don’t attend at all, the whole notion of church seasons may be more or less foreign to you. (Quick overview: at different times of the calendar year we celebrate different things on the church calendar: Christmas in late December and Advent leading up to it… Easter in the spring and Lent leading up to it… and there are different scripture readings assigned to each Sunday)

Also, if you’ve been reading Faith Perspectives the last two weeks, you may gather that I am rather fond of liturgy and church traditions.

Also, if you’ve ever seen me lead worship, you may know my fondness for the visual and musical traditions of the historic church.

So let’s wrap up our look at Lent with traditions of colors and music!

Each season of the church calendar has an assigned color that will adorn the pastor (stole, chasuble) and the chancel furniture (altar, pulpit, lectern).

These are called vestments and paraments, respectively. In Lent, these are purple.

Of course, colors in themselves don’t have inherent meaning, but in our western society, there are plenty of associations.

Purple represents the kingship of Jesus, because in older time, only royalty wore purple (think “royal purple”) since it was such an expensive dye.

Secondarily, scripture tells us that at His trial, Jesus wore a purple robe given Him by the Roman guards (Mk 15:17, Jn 19:5, cf. first reason). And thirdly, because purple is such a dark color (or at least the positively plum pantones that we use in church are!), it represents the sorrow of the coming death of Jesus.

If you went to a service last week on St. Valentine’s Day, you may have seen black cloths on the pastor and altar.

No, this was not to mourn the martyrdom of St. Valentine (although his feast day is to honor the day of his death), but it was for Ash Wednesday.

While this day does not observe a strictly historically scriptural event, it is the official start of Lent where we consider our mortality and often receive a cross upon our foreheads of ash mingles with oil.

Obviously the black color for the day represents our own mortality and sinful nature, and also represents the ash and dust from which man was created and will return (Gen. 2:7, 3:19).

Finally, throughout Lent, you may notice hymns in minor keys, conveying the somber, penitential nature of the season, as we consider our sinfulness and our need for a savior.

Most starkly though, you’ll notice an absence of “Alleluia” in the hymns and liturgy.

Traditionally we “bury” the Alleluia and constrain our joyful emotions (more than usual).

That means not singing Gloria in Excelsis before the readings or Alleluia and Verses before the Gospel.

By “giving up Alleluias” for Lent, we make the Easter celebration all the more exciting as we resume eating chocolate, browsing of Facebook, and singing of Alleluias!

As we prepare for the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus, may God prepare us for the joy that only our resurrected King Jesus can bring.


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