The Litany, Neglected Weapon

Orate Pro Nobis

The Litany is an ancient form of responsive prayer, by which a series of invocations is made by one person and after each one of the invocations a standard response is recited by all the present. Litanies can, though, also be recited individually at home.

There used to be more than eighty litanies around during the Middle Ages, but in more recent times they have been reduced in number and are today limited to those of both traditional use and proved orthodoxy (e.g. the Litany of the Saints, or the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary). You may find slightly different versions of the same litany.

Let us take as example the Litany of the Sacred Heart:

V. Lord, have mercy on us.
R. Christ, have mercy on us.
V. Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us.
R. Christ, graciously hear us.
V. God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mother’s womb, [etc.]
Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the Word of God.
Heart of Jesus, of infinite majesty.
Heart of Jesus, holy temple of God.
Heart of Jesus, tabernacle of the Most High.
Heart of Jesus, house of God and gate of heaven.
Heart of Jesus, glowing furnace of charity.
Heart of Jesus, vessel of justice and love.
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love.
Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues.
Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise.
Heart of Jesus, King and center of all hearts.
Heart of Jesus, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Heart of Jesus, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead.
Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father was well pleased.
Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received.
Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills.
Heart of Jesus, patient and rich in mercy.
Heart of Jesus, rich to all who call upon You.
Heart of Jesus, fount of life and holiness.
Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our offenses.
Heart of Jesus, overwhelmed with reproaches.
Heart of Jesus, bruised for our iniquities.
Heart of Jesus, obedient even unto death.
Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance.
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation.
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection.
Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation.
Heart of Jesus, victim for our sins.
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who hope in You.
Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in You.
Heart of Jesus, delight of all saints.

V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. spare us, O Lord.
V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. graciously hear us, O Lord.
V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. have mercy on us.

V. Jesus, meek and humble of Heart,
R. Make our hearts like unto Thine.

Let us pray.

Almighty and eternal God, look upon the Heart of Thy most beloved Son and upon the praises and satisfaction which He offers Thee in the name of sinners; and to those who implore Thy mercy, in Thy great goodness, grant forgiveness in the name of the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who livest and reignest with Thee forever and ever. Amen.

The most important aspects of the litany -a powerful instrument, rather than a boring repetition of slogans for people who didn’t have television – are in my eyes as follows:

1) the power of vocal prayer.
Christians believe in saying things out loud. This has been slightly downplayed after V II with its (exaggerated) accent on the personal relationship with God, but the traditional message of a litany is: speak out your prayer, loud and clear. Many traditional devotions are traditionally said vocally. Our grandmothers would have found a mental recitation of, say, the rosary something rather unusual. People who want to feel modern would today talk of “affirmations” (used also in a non -Christian context and, as such, hip) and stress the power of vocal utterances. Christianity already got this, big time, before most “new agers” were born.

2) the power of repetition.
What would appear to be boring is, in reality, a powerful concentration exercise. The (oh so celebrated) insisted repetition of sacred words in Oriental religions follows the same principle: repetita iuvant. You immerse yourself in a prayerful atmosphere, you cast out the cares of the day and your mind is helped to stay focused on the subject of the prayer.

3) the learning element.
One of the reasons why modern Catholics are so tepid to the message of Jesus is because… they do not recite litanies. Litanies are vast reservoirs of both doctrinal knowledge and useful snippets of devotional themes. Look at the litany above and notice how much information it contains: Jesus is – just to make some examples – “source of consolation”, “patient and rich in mercy”, “salvation of those who hope in him”. “I know all that already”, you may say, but the constant repetition of the litany allows not only to know, but to instantly recall when the need arises.

The Litanies are just another element of the rich Catholic devotions abandoned after V II because, well, not Protestant. I seem to notice a resurgence of this beautiful devotion, both in churches and in the wealth of information available on the Internet.

Let us hope that this continues.

Mundabor

Posted on September 16, 2010, in Catholicism and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Litany, Neglected Weapon.

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