Thursday 20 January 2022

Litany of Loreto - Bishop Charles Renfrew - Explaining the Titles Given to Mary in this Famous Prayer - CTS Devotions

Litany of Loreto: 
Explaining the titles given to Mary in this famous prayer.
Rt Rev. Charles Renfrew
ISBN 9781860827969
eISBN 9781784694371
CTS Booklet D751

Over the last several years I have read over 250 volumes from the Catholic Truth Society. This is the first by the Rt Rev. Charles Renfrew, Ph. L., S.T.L. that I have encountered, and I believe the only book he has published. At the time the book went to print he was the Titular Bishop of Abula. The book was first released in 1985, revised in 2012 and an eBook released in 2017. Currently the paperback is out of print. The description of this volume is:

“This litany to the Blessed Virgin Mary was first used in the mid-16th century at the Italian shrine from which its name derives. Now considered a classic text of Marian devotion, the Litany of Loreto is an opportunity to draw closer to Jesus' mother through seeing her as the greatest example of the Christian life. This booklet, as well as containing the full text of the actual litany, also looks closely at the many titles used to describe Our Blessed Lady and how their meaning can help us to live as she did, ever open to God's plan.”

The chapters in the work are:

Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Looking at the Litany as a Whole
The Invocations of the Blessed Trinity
The Litany explained

This volume begins with these words:

“I suppose there are as many forms of prayer as there are people. We all have our own way of talking to God. Some are gifted with a certain ease in contemplation - sitting quietly in the presence of God and letting him act on us, with very few words. Indeed, this openness to God’s action upon us is something worth practising and striving for. Others find this more difficult, but stick to simple forms of vocal prayer learned when they were young. Indeed, St Thérèse of Lisieux always maintained that she could never get beyond the words ‘Our Father’ in the Lord’s Prayer, so full did her mind become at the very word ‘Father’.

Other people need pit-props in prayer - the Rosary, prayer books, the Thirty Days’ prayer - and have their special ‘favourites’ amongst the prayers of the great saints.

The important thing is to pray - to get into contact, and raise your mind and heart to God frequently, wherever you may find yourself: it is a question of giving time to God instead of to other things. St Benedict’s ‘To work is to pray’ must be interpreted correctly - he did not mean that work was a substitute for prayer, but that it is possible to raise your mind and thoughts to God even during work. His adage must not be used as an escape from contact with God, even during work.”

And the preface ends with these words:

“Nor must prayer be looked upon as a mere asking, pestering of God for favours. Prayer, like the Mass itself, can be the sheer adoration of God, thanking him for his innumerable benefits, confessing our own sins and unworthiness; I would say that these aims in prayer are the proper priorities, way ahead of asking for favours: if your prayer has become sheer adoration, there will never be a need for any other sort!

Mary, God’s mother and mine, help me explore the treasures of this ancient prayer in your honour. Amen.”

Bishop Renfrew takes us on a journey of discovery in this volume. He teaches, he encourages, and he challenges. I picked up the volume without even reading the description, having read several others in the CTS Devotions series. But this volume was much more than I expected. I expected a history of the devotion, and its use over time. But this volume is a very deep dive into the titles and invocations in this prayer. We are informed that:

“Antiphonal prayer is a very old type of prayer from the earliest days of Jewish worship. I suppose we best know it officially from the Responsorial Psalm - the reader or cantor reads or sings the psalm, and the congregation replies with the repetitive antiphon - with the same words and tune throughout. The same applies to a litany - the invocation is called out and the whole body of people reply with a simple, ‘Have mercy on us’, or ‘Pray for us’. There are some very beautiful old litanies in the Church’s treasury - the Litany of the Saints, the Litany of the Holy Name, The Litany of St Joseph, the Litany of the Precious Blood, the Litany of the Sacred Heart, etc.

In the Litany of Loreto, Our Lady’s help is called for under no less than forty-nine titles, each expressive of one or other of Our Lady’s virtues.”

And also:

“The first twenty titles indicate the dignity of the relationship between Mary and God and man. They show her excellence as the prototype, after her Son, of Christian perfection.

Then follow seventeen titles, many associated with the Old Testament prophecies of her power and office.

Finally, she is addressed twelve times as Queen - in terms which express the broad terms of her queenship. The litany ends with the prayer from the common Mass of Our Lady, seeking health of mind and body, and deliverance from present sorrow to future joy.”

Litanies are described:

“Look upon litanies as machine guns of praise, title following title, plea for mercy following plea for mercy. For do we not need the intercession and care of our Mother and of all the court of heaven to aid us through our particular Valley of Tears? We know from having used other prayers to Our Lady that she is clement, loving and sweet. We know that never was it known that anyone who fled to her protection was left unaided. We are sinful and sorrowful, standing humbly before her, but she, the Mother of the Word Incarnate, will not despise our petitions, but in her mercy will hear and answer our every prayer. For she is our Mother, and we her humble and weak children. Indeed, maybe the magic word ‘Mother’ is the key to it all, and the root of our devotion to her and our claim on her ‘now and at the hour of our death.’”

I have a few litanies that I pray every day and have done so for a few years now. After reading this excellent volume this one has been added to my daily prayer goals. We are taught about the title:

“This litany in honour of Our Lady is called after the shrine, the Holy House of Loreto, where it was used among pilgrims from the mid-sixteenth century. The litany did not originate at Loreto, but is traceable to the early Middle Ages: it is greatly influenced by titles of Our Lady used in the Eastern Church. Indeed, the litany’s earliest manuscript dates as far back as 1200. But its popularity spread through thousands hearing it at Loreto and taking it to various lands on their return home from pilgrimage.”

We also learn about some of the titles that were added over time and which pope added them. In the chapter The Litany Explained, we have a section for each part of the prayer. Some are just a page others are a few pages long. They begin with Holy Mary and end with Queen of Peace. This is a wonderful little volume and one I know I will return to again. It is an excellent guide and can be used for spiritual reading, meditation, reflection or just as a great book to read. I highly recommend this book and encourage you to pick it up and to read and pray your way through it.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

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