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A litany, from the Latin litania , in turn from the Greek lite , meaning prayer or supplication, is structured as a series of short invocations with a common theme. The model for litanies is Psalm which is, for the most part, a recasting of Psalm in the litany format. In the psalm, a large part is comprised of a listing of various actions the Lord has taken.
It serves as praise for the Lord's actions from Genesis to the then current state of Israel's history. For each line of the psalm, there is a repeated ending: "God's love endures forever" as used in the New American Bible; in other translations: "for his mercy endures forever".
Among the listed actions, the psalm notes that God "has done great wonders, skillfully made the heavens, spread the earth upon the waters, made the great lights…struck down the firstborn of Egypt, led Israel from their midst…swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea, led the people through the desert, struck down great kings…freed us from our foes, and gives food to all flesh. Praise the Lord, who is so good; God's love endures forever; Praise the God of gods; God's love endures forever; Praise the Lord of lords; God's love endures forever;.
Litanies may be about God, as in this psalm, or be prayers directed to God and may be specified as being specifically to, or about, Jesus , or they may be about or directed to others to whom we give homage and pray, especially the saints, of which Mary is the most frequently invoked.
Some litanies are devoted to particular liturgical celebrations, such as Lent. Most litanies have the structure of an introduction, then one or more groups of virtues or designations or prayers, and an ending. However, shorter litanies may dispense with the introduction or ending. When used liturgically, the litany typically involves a cantor providing the start of each element of prayer and the congregation completing it; entire segments of the prayer form may involve the congregation simply repeating the same phrase as in Psalm above.
This is comparable in its nature to the "prayer of the faithful" in which the priest, deacon, or lector states the prayer, which varies but may entail a particular topic, and the congregation answers with "Lord hear our prayer" or similar response. A few litanies may not incorporate this pattern of responses, but will still be characterized by a repetitive phrase, so that each litany has, as one of its qualities, many repetitions. A New Testament model for this repetition is the Beatitudes Matthew 5 , with the repeated "Blessed are they who…".
Litanies that have had their words recorded number in the hundreds. A list of litanies at time of this writing , including the words for each, is available at the Catholic Doors Ministry web site:.
There are currently six litanies that are approved for public prayer in the Catholic Church:. Of these, the Litany of the Saints is the oldest, said to have originated around , when it was used by St. Gregory the Great lived ; Pope from This litany was introduced following efforts to formalize the use of litanies in the Church.
For example, at the Synod of Iaris litanies were ordered to be held for three days at the beginning of Lent. In Pope Gregory was moved by the occurrence of a great pestilence that followed an inundation, and ordered a Litania Septiformis "sevenfold procession" : clergy; laity; monks; virgins; matrons; widows; and the poor and children. It was in one of these Litania Septiformis , in celebration of the end of the plague, that the Litany of the Saints was introduced.
Later, the Fifth Synod of Toledo instituted the recitation of litanies for three days from December The Litany of the Saints is the one that is routinely integrated into the modern liturgy, always used at the Easter Vigil and during ordinations, often used on Rogation days the 25th of April, said to have been introduced also by Gregory the Great, and the three days before the feast of the Ascension , ceremonies involving laying the cornerstone of a new church or consecrating the completed church, and in special situations such as at the funeral of the Pope, see stories below.
Privately, this litany is prayed any time one wishes, but is especially prayed after sundown on All Saints' Day in preparation for All Souls' Day, and on All Souls' Day itself. At the time this litany was introduced, there was no formal process for declaration of sainthood; the martyrs and early Church fathers were considered saints, as were other individuals who were venerated by popular attraction to their lives and accomplishments.
Gregory I relied primarily on the martyrs buried at the Catacombs of Callistus see Appendix 3. The first comprehensive book of saints was Butler's Lives of the Saints , published around and it had 1, entries.
Two hundred years later revision , there were 2, listed. Thus, any litany of saints is selective. The Litany of the Saints has an introduction and then mentions saints in the following order: Mary; the angels; St. Joseph and the Patriarchs and Prophets; the Apostles and Evangelists; all the disciples of the Lord; the Holy Innocents and the glorious martyrs; the holy Bishops and Confessors those who suffer for the faith ; the holy priests and Levites; the virgins and widows; and all holy men and women.
The repeated responses are: "pray for us;" "deliver us;" and "we beseech thee, hear us. The Litany of the Saints may have gained new meaning and wider recognition through its use in the funeral of John Paul II, seen and heard by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Here are parts of two stories of that event, based on hearing the Litany of the Saints the traditional style was used, in Latin, at the Vatican event :. There are many forms for the Litany of the Saints. Perhaps the most familiar is the abbreviated version sung before the Blessing of Water at the Easter Vigil Liturgy.
This begins with a short list of saints including the names of the baptismal candidates and their confirmation names and various invocations…. In the Order of Christian Funerals, during the Transferal of the Body from the home to the church, it is common to chant the Litany of the Saints. Part of what captivated the vast audience watching this rite from Rome was the Latin language used for the litany.
What made this unusual, even to ears accustomed to hearing the litany and the Latin language, was the personalization of the text. Rather than the usual response to each saint's invocation, Ora pro nobis , meaning "Pray for us," this litany used Ora pro eo , meaning "Pray for him.
The music which aroused such attention was one of the simplest Gregorian chants: the Litany of the Saints. We at CNP received an astounding number of inquiries about this music-music which should be common in every Roman Rite parish as part of the Easter Vigil , music which has been a normal part of processions for centuries. Here are some comments that we heard and read about the music surrounding the Holy Father's funeral rites:.
A newly composed Litany of the Saints, by John D. Becker, successfully transforms the long solemn chant prayer in the Roman liturgy into a beautiful, melodic ritual music. It's simplicity and rhythm, as well as its shorter set of repetitions, makes it more accessible for the congregation, though some prefer the older style, which is in the nature of Gregorian chants the traditional Litany is in Appendix 2. John Becker's version was copyrighted by the Oregon Catholic Press in In it, the saints are grouped together, and there are some slight deviations from the pattern in the older versions.
Following is his wording. John D. Becker Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Mary and Joseph, pray for us. Michael and all angels, pray for us. Anna, Joachim, Elizabeth, pray for us. Elijah, Moses, John the Baptist, pray for us. Isaac, Sarah, Abraham, pray for us.
Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, pray for us. Ruth, David and Solomon, pray for us. Isaiah, Jeremiah, pray for us. All you holy men and women, pray for us. Peter, Paul, Andrew, pray for us. James, John, and all apostles, pray for us. Mary Magdelene, Veronica, pray for us. Barnabas, Matthias, pray for us. Stephen, Philip, and Cornelius, pray for us. Prisca and Aquila, pray for us. Timothy and Titus, pray for us. Linus, Cletus, and Clement, pray for us.
Lawrence and Chrysogonus, pray for us. Innocent and Boniface, pray for us. Hippolytus and Origen, pray for us. Athanasius and Basil, pray for us. Felicity, Perpetua, pray for us. Cosmos and Damien, pray for us. John Chrysostom and Justin, pray for us. Lucy, Agatha, and Agnes, pray for us. Jerome and Eusebius, pray for us. Scholastica and Benedict, pray for us. Ambrose, Monica, Augustine, pray for us. Martin and Gregory, pray for us. Clare, Francis, and Dominic, pray for us.
Francis Xavier, Ignatius, pray for us. Elizabeth and Catherine, pray for us. Louis and Wenceslaus, pray for us. Lord, be merciful, save your people. From all evil, save your people. From every sin, save your people. From everlasting damn, save your people. By your incarnation, save your people. By your death and resurrection, save your people.
By your gift of the spirit, save your people. Have mercy on us sinners, save your people. Christ here us, Lord Jesus hear our prayer.
Litany of the Saints
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Mary and Joseph, pray for us. Michael and all angels, pray for us. Anna, Joachim, Elizabeth, pray for us. Elijah, Moses, John the Baptist, pray for us.
The Litany of the Saints as sung in Rome on April 4, 2005