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Music Matters: "Changing Seasons"

By Nathan Cicero, Music Director

To me, one of the advantages of living in the Midwest has always been the variety of climate. Unlike a more conventionally “desirable” place to live, we get a little bit of everything: snow in the winter, mild autumns and springs, and hot, but still relatively tame summers. Even Baltimore, my home for the past two years, doesn’t have quite the variety, with less snow and summers that are hotter.

The passing of seasons is more than just a way to keep track of time. It can jog memories and stir up specific emotions associated with that season. What we perceive via our senses operates on a different level within us in our minds and hearts. In much the same way, I’ve often enjoyed the passing of liturgical seasons.

Beyond marking the simple passage of time, the liturgical year orients our inner beings to the realities of that particular season. The changes we incur in the liturgy throughout the year are often that one “thing” that can affect us on a deeper level. Perhaps on a spiritual level, we tend to think of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as being hallmarks of Lent, but what do we perceive as being liturgically different? Well, the observant ones will notice the change in color, the altar and priest now being adorned in deep purple. One of the most powerful changes for me (unsurprisingly!) is musical: the “abstinence” from the Gloria and Alleluia Gospel Acclamation. Often as a church musician, regularly providing music for four Masses each weekend, it’s easy to go on autopilot--to go through the Mass as if checking boxes. Perhaps the cradle Catholics among us can identify with this as well. Our responses to the words of the priest have become mere muscle memory.

It may be in this case that the proverb is true: “You don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it.” I know that for me, when the Gloria returns in all its--well, glory--at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, I appreciate it with a vigor unlike any other time of the year. The Missal even specifies that bells are to be rung during its singing at this Mass, as if to say “This is REALLY important!”

And it certainly is. It feels almost cathartic to sing “Alleluia” over and over again on Easter Sunday after “giving it up” for Lent. So, one can say what they will about the season of Lent being “arbitrary”, that we should really be committing to bettering ourselves the whole year, but I think there is something liturgically special about Lent being a season. Just like the change from winter to spring, the outward signs of this change (in my case, musical) can help change us from within. May this be the season that abstaining from even the simplest of sung prayers helps us appreciate their beauty and efficacy even more.

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Each month, Music Director Nathan Cicero will use this column to examine an aspect of music ministry at St. Mark’s. Email him at

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