Last night's celebration of Ash Wednesday was beautiful.
As described several days ago, this Lent we are doing some different things at Mass: we will begin with an Introit, or a "psalm-antiphon" as I described it in our bulletin; we are using instruments less -- so, last night, we had almost no instrumental music, only voice; we used new music for the Memorial Acclamation: "Dying you destroyed our death..." and the Lamb of God; and we introduced the chant Sanctus.
Church was full, which is always a wonderful sight. Handouts were in place, and the music director reviewed the music with the people a few minutes before Mass. I was in the sacristy, chatting with the reader, and I interrupted her and said, "just listen to that": the people were practicing the Sanctus and it was stunning.
The music worked well, I thought; unfortunately, the memorial acclamation and Lamb of God were also new to folks, so that was a little weak. Also, the Sanctus, because people weren't holding their handouts at that point, and aren't used to that. But that said, folks did sing the music well, and the power and beauty with which they sang it prior to Mass clearly proves they can and will sing it! So, with time, I believe it will work well.
As my music director observed, part of what made it beautiful was that the singing was unaccompanied. It's amazing to me how seldom one hears this on Sunday -- as if there were some "rule against it" or it was "too hard." It is not "too hard"--people sing unaccompanied all the time. Could it be that some music directors either lack the skill to do this; or they don't want to have (seemingly) less to do?
Other music sung: Parce Domine during the imposition of ashes: Latin refrain, English verses; "Hear us, Almighty Lord" (Attende Domine) in English, at the offertory. At communion, we did something contemporary, but I cannot recall what it was (perhaps my music director will wander over here and post the title); but it was well chosen, and it fit, and it worked far better as part of a mix, than it would when everything has the dreary sameness.
At the end, we sang "The Glory of These Forty Days" which seemed a hopeful finish.
I did something a little different with the ashes--I wonder if anyone wants to offer a liturgical critique on this: I set them up on a table, in front of the baptismal font, which is in front of the Mary altar. The Easter Candle was there, unlit of course. I blessed the ashes, and sprinkled them with holy water (which comes from the baptismal font when possible), then imposed ashes on the extraordinary ministers who came forward and met me there. Why do it that way?
Well, the other way is to set it up on a table at the foot of the sanctuary -- where the altar rail used to be -- or, to have the server hold them on a tray. Anyway, I thought the connection with baptism useful. That is, after all, a major theme of Lent (and Easter); we are either preparing for baptism, or recalling the initial conversion of our baptism. Liturgically, our path of Lent will lead us right back to that font, on the Vigil, and on Easter Sunday.