Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Litanies: Litany of the Saints

Today, we will begin a new series on Litanies. This is part of our broader series on Indulgences. There are six Litanies enriched with a partial indulgence: the Litany of the Saints, the Litany of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the Litany of Loreto (for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Litany of the Most Sacred Heart, the Litany of the Most Precious Blood, and the Litany of St. Joseph. By far, the oldest of these is the Litany of the Saints. It is thus a good idea to turn first to this prayer, so important to our tradition, and well-used in both our Liturgy and Popular Devotions.

* * *

The Litany of Saints is of undetermined antiquity. We can generally say that some form of it was common at the time of St. Gregory the Great, who ordered his Litania Septiformis. The practice of litanies used in procession goes back to the legalization of Christianity under Constantine. As there were sacred processions in the contemporary Pagan practice, so the Christians invented their own. One general practice during these processions was a series of invocations followed by a standard response. This has become what we know now as Litany. One can see that it would be easy to sing or recite such a prayer in procession, as only one needs to know the invocations, while the rest may simply offer the response.

The form adopted for the Litany of the Saints can be seen coming from the practice of the Roman processions. The most important of these would be held on the day of the Major Litany (April 25, St. Mark's Day, supplanting the Pagan procession of the Robigalia on the same day). It was also used for the Minor Litanies: the Rogation Days asking for a good harvest, on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Thursday.

The Litany of the Saints is used at numerous points in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite. However, there are different forms of this Litany used in each. In the case of the Ordinary Form, the Litany of the Saints used at the Easter Vigil has a rather short listing of Saints, and does not include the invocations to the Trinity before the invocation of the Saints to "have mercy on us." In the Rite of Baptism, there are only a handful of Saints invoked (oddly, this Litany is preceded by the Prayer of the Faithful, which is also a Litany).

A full form of the Litany may be found here, including both English and Latin text. Another easier-to-follow English version may be found here. Nevertheless, names of other Saints may be inserted at the appropriate place in the Litany (for instance, the patron of the parish or diocese). It is forbidden, however, to insert the names of those who are not venerated as Saints into the Litany (for this reason, we ought to avoid using the form of the Litany which includes the name of Origen in any liturgical celebration).

There are innumerable times during which this prayer may be said: during processions, obviously, and at those points appointed in the Liturgy; during an evening vigil; as a preparation for liturgical prayer; as a form of intercession for some particular need; on Sundays, uniting ourselves with the full Communion of Saints, on behalf of the Faithful Departed, expecially on Mondays, on which we especially traditionally remember the Poor Souls. It may also be used for processions to the church during Lent (and seems appropriate also on the Solemnity of All Saints, Nov. 1st).

This prayer is well-suited for prayer in common. It can be recited with minimal training for those who respond. It can likewise be easily chanted (especially with the settings we have for the Litany in the Easter Vigil). It is enriched with a partial indulgence.

No comments:

Post a Comment