Moving Liturgically through Lent
As we move through Lent, so we move through the Lenten journey. There are no alleluias. The Gloria in Excelsis is not sung. No flowers adorn the chancel. Demons are everywhere in the Gospels traditionally appointed for the first three Sundays (at Lent I, in the wilderness; at Lent II, in the Canaanite's daughter; at Lent III, in the mute, and in the debate between Jesus and his enemies).
Then at Lent IV we pause to remember that the entire exercise is ultimately an exercise of joy, for the end of Lent is always Easter. So at Lent IV we find ourselves anticipating Easter. This is called Laetare, "O rejoice." We allow roses on this day; and some of our churches even lighten the Lenten violet on this day only by replacing it with rose-colored paraments and vestments.
But then we move on toward the darker side of Lent: beginning on the Fifth Sunday we enter into Passiontide, and we veil the images and crosses. And from here to Easter we even cease singing the Gloria Patri wherever it is found.
On Palm Sunday we enter Holy Week, and we hear not only the Gospel of the Triumphal Entry, which is said before the opening of the procession, but we begin to hear the Passion accounts. On this day, we hear the Passion according to St. Matthew.
Then we enter the triduum sacrum, the Holy Three Days. First we commemorate the Institution of the Blessed Sacrament on Maundy Thursday, and here we also find a few anticipations of Easter: the parament color is white, and we sing the Gloria in Excelsis (though still not any Gloria Patri). Then after the Service, with the congregation still in attendance, we strip the altar, and remove the paraments and vessels and reliquae from the chancel.
On Good Friday the paraments are either black or there are none at all (except fair linen and corporal as minimally needed for the Sacrament), for the Solemn Liturgy. In some churches the organ is silent.
Then on Holy Saturday, for the Great Vigil, the veils are gone, and the paraments are white and lilies are in place, but they can't be seen very well because the lights are dimmed until the fourth part of the Vigil. The first part of the Vigil is the service of light, when the new paschal candle is lit from a fire outside, and all process into the church. The second part of the Vigil is the service of readings. The third part is the service of Baptism (or baptismal remembrance, or perhaps confirmation). Then at the beginning of fourth part we observe the ending of Lent and the arrival of Easter. The lights are turned up. "Christ is risen" is announced, with the reply, "He is risen indeed," and immediately the Gloria in Excelsis is sung while the church bells are rung (for churches unable to hold the Vigil, this can take place at the Easter Sunrise). The service continues with the reading of the Easter Gospel from St. Matthew 28, a sermon, and the Sacrament. Some churches delay this fourth part altogether until Easter sunrise.
If you have been able to observe the entire Great Vigil on Saturday evening, then the Sunrise Service on Easter morning becomes a continuation of the celebration by marking the time when we, through the women and the disciples, discovered that the Lord had risen from the grave.
Although the descent into the depths of Lent is by steps, the ascent to Easter is immediate and, if done well, can contribute mightily to the joy of the day.