The popular idea of 'giving things up' in Lent, however inadequately it is often understood, has its liturgical expression in the stark simplicty of Lenten worship. In part this is to express a spirit of penitence. But it is also in order to provide striking contrast wlth the joyful celebration of Easter. This 'giving up' traditionally includes the omission of the Gloria in Excelsis at the eucharist, the absence of flowers from the church, the restrained use of the organ to accompany worship, and the careful selection of texts (for instance of hymns) to avoid the use of the word 'Alleluia' and similar expressions of joy which will greet the resurrection on Easter Day. These are only examples of how a distinctive atmosphere can be introduced into the worship of the season. Priest and people must aim at an austerity that is quite different from dreariness.
The spirit of the season is also expressed by a restraint in the observance of Holy Days that interrupt the Lent ethos. The feast days of St Joseph and the Annunciation are legitimate intrusions, appropriately marked by the return of the Gloria and other signs of festival. But the lesser commemorations, except where they have particular local significance, are best observed only by inclusion in the prayers of intercession.
There has also grown up a custom of 'veiling' crosses (and, in some churches, statues also) either for the whole of Lent or from Palm Sunday. In part this development has been a misunderstanding of an early custom. What was being veiled was not the cross but the splendour of rich and jewelled metalwork. To obscure the cross in Lent and Holy Week is misplaced, though the substitution of a simple wooden cross or crucifix for a more colourful or expensive one might be an impressive symbol, and the removal of banners and pictures could enhance the atmosphere of Lent.
The order given for Ash Wednesday (with an indication that it might be
used instead on the First Sunday in Lent) seeks to provide a service
characterized by silence, relfection, and penitence. The service is
set out in a form which combines it with the eucharist, although it
may be used independently. The traditional practice of imposition of
ashes is included, but the rite may profitably be used even when this
custom is not followed. The service is designed not only to mark a
special day but to start the local Christian congregation off on a
path that can be seen, even at this early stage, to be leading to the
Good Friday and Easter celebrations. Its emphasis is therefore as much
on the season it inaugurates as on the day it marks.
An Order for the Beginning of Lent | title page