Thursday 17 November 2022

A Little Book of Litanies - Amette Ley - CTS Devotions

A Little Book of Litanies
CTS Devotions
Amette Ley
Catholic Truth Society
eISBN 9781784694340
CTS Booklet D807

Over the last few years I have read over 300 volumes from the Catholic Truth Society. I stumbled upon them while doing research on an author, and have been hooked ever since. I have read many in the CTS Biographies and also Saints of the Isles Series, and I loved the books in the CTS Great Saints Series. I love reading about so many saints, their lives and their times. My other favourite books form the CTS are the Prayers and Devotions books. Many of the books in this series do not even have the authors name on the cover including this volume. This is the second of the books edited by Ley I have read. This volume was originally released in 2016, and the eBook edition followed a year later. The description of the current edition is:
“This booklet explains the origins, history and value of litanies and includes a selection of litanies both approved by the Church and for private use. A suggested calendar of litanies helps the reader to pray them throughout the year.
Litanies are a well established form of prayer, but are often forgotten. There are a great many of varying authenticity in circulation, but only six are officially approved by the Church for public use. This booklet explains the origins, history and value of litanies and includes the complete texts of approved litanies, including a selection of other respected and well-known litanies for private use. A suggested calendar of litanies helps the reader to pray them throughout the year.”
The chapters and prayers in the book are:
Litanies - A Short History
Litanies of the Church Officially Approved for Public Use
Litany of the Saints
Litany of Loreto to Our Lady
Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus
Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Litany of St Joseph
Litany of the Most Precious Blood
Litanies for Private Use
Litany of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales
Litany of the Passion
Litany of the Resurrection
Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim
Litany to St John Paul II
Litany to the Divine Mercy
Litany of Humility
Praying with Litanies Through the Year
I absolutely loved this volume. From the history and background of Litanies. And the history of those approved by the church. To warnings that not all Litanies are in line with church teachings. I highlighted many passages while reading this volume. I highlighted nearly 30 passages while reading this booklet. Some of them are:
“A litany is simply a prayer. The word derives from the Greek lite which means “supplication”. This gave rise to the word litaneia, “prayer, entreaty”; and this word, in turn, made its way via its late Latin form, litania, into our own language. Specifically, it now refers to a certain form of prayer as repetitive dialogue, which has its roots both in the natural inclination of humanity to find many and various ways of praising and making supplication to its deities, and also more particularly in the human response of gratitude to the supernatural revelation God gives of himself to his people.”
“We find early examples of prayer in the form of a litany in the Old Testament; for instance Psalm 136, which praises God for the many works he has done.1 Psalm”
“Both these passages, although not usually referred to as litanies, nevertheless demonstrate the origins of the litany, and its repetitive, meditative and spiritually enriching character. Both of them are regularly used in the Liturgy of the Hours (the Divine Office), the official prayer of the Church.”
“The Eastern Churches retain this tradition even within their Divine Liturgy. At the end of the first part, what we would call the Liturgy of the Word, various petitions are made and the response to these, “Kyrie eleison”, is given by the people. In fact, the litany-form of repetitive prayer and response occurs throughout the Eastern liturgy.3 Within the Roman Catholic Church the threefold Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison is a relic of what was probably a longer litany. The formula of the prayers for the needs of all people on Good Friday derives from a litany, and a litany is retained for baptisms within the Easter Vigil Mass.”
“Litanies were closely connected with processions in the early Church. The custom developed in Rome, especially after persecution ended, of processing to a different Church each day, particularly during Lent, carrying pictures and other aids to worship, and praying at the church, or “station” (“stopping-point”). The practice and wording of litanies thus became well known, and many different forms developed throughout the Christian world, honouring various aspects of God and paying tribute to many different saints, some local and some more widely known.”
“Then as now, the wording of some of these litanies sometimes departed from orthodox belief. By the early seventeenth century there were at least eighty litanies being used and there was a danger of abuse.”
“Litanies are intended as a spiritual, meditative form of prayer, one in which those taking part can become ever more focused on the love and mercy of God. Usually a litany is formed of a list of invocations and petitions, either addressed to God, or to a particular saint or saints. The litany is usually led by one person, either a priest or a lay person, and the rest of the company make the responses; however, there is no reason why litanies cannot be used by individuals praying alone.”
“The prayers of the litany may focus on certain seasons, or on specific needs in which the saints may help us, or they may simply be intended for the praise of God. A litany typically begins with the sign of the cross, followed by invocations for mercy to the three Persons of the Trinity. Then follow the particular prayers.”
“Litanies combine several elements of prayer, making them suitable for all ages and for many occasions. They are prayers of blessing and adoration, making them encounters between God and mankind in a dialogue of love which is the primary meaning of prayer. They are prayers of petition – our most usual form of prayer in this vale of tears as we turn back to the Father. We ask forgiveness, we search for the coming of God’s Kingdom and we pray for every conceivable need. They are prayers of intercession for others, “… characteristic of a heart attuned to God’s mercy” as when Abraham begged God for mercy on the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18). And litanies are prayers of thanksgiving, rooted and grounded in the Eucharist which is the thanksgiving prayer of the Church. Litanies are also prayers of joyful praise by which the Spirit is joined to our spirits to bear witness that we are children of God. Litanies of praise help to carry forward all the other forms of prayer towards God our Father, the source of our life.”
“The six approved Litanies Clement VIII allowed only two litanies of the eighty or more which were in circulation in 1601:
• The Litany of Saints – the oldest of the litanies
• The Litany of Loreto to Our Lady Since the time of Clement VIII, four more litanies have been added to the list of litanies approved for public worship.
• The Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus
• The Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
• The Litany of St Joseph
• The Litany of the Most Precious Blood These six litanies each carry a partial indulgence.”
“Litany of the Saints Pope Gregory the Great seems to have formalised this litany which was already popular, declaring that it be sung for three days at the start of Lent as well as other times. The Litany of the Saints was also used in a thanksgiving procession he ordered for the end of a great plague in 590.”
“Earlier Marian litanies tended to be very long and were probably intended more for individual use, but gradually they were shortened and brought into public use, especially at times of epidemics or other great need in the way that the Litany of the Saints was used. The Litany of Loreto seems to have developed along the same lines as other Marian litanies of the time, but its popularity and survival probably stem from its use at the Holy House of Loreto, from where pilgrims from all over Christendom brought it back to their own countries and parishes.”
Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus: This is another old and beautiful litany making use of poetic language and symbolism. It was known as far back as the time of Pope Sixtus V (1585-90). Approved in an earlier form by Pius IX in 1862, it was then permitted for the whole world in 1886 by Leo XIII.”
Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: This litany was authorised in 1899, also by Leo XIII and is often used on the First Fridays of the month as a way of expressing sorrow for sins committed against the Sacred Heart of Jesus which is so full of love for us. St Margaret Mary had made the devotion to the Sacred Heart well known through the visions she received in 1673-1675 and several litanies developed during the following years. The litany as we now have it is an amalgamation of these, consisting of thirty-three petitions – one for each year of our Lord’s life.”
Litany of St Joseph: This relatively recent litany was approved by Pope St Pius X on 18th March 1909. Devotion to St Joseph, whom Scripture describes as a “just man” (Mt 1:19), grew throughout the twentieth century and this litany is particularly suitable for families to pray together, placing themselves under his protection. The relatively short length of this litany may also be an advantage here.”
Litany of the Most Precious Blood: This, the most recent addition to the list of litanies for public recitation, was promulgated by Pope St John XXIII on 24th February 1960.7 The feast of the Precious Blood itself was established in 1849 by Pius IX. Although this litany is relatively recent, devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus dates back to the earliest days of Christianity when it was recognised that the Church herself and her sacraments were born from the wounded side of Our Lord.”
“In addition to the six litanies approved for public use, there are many other litanies in circulation. Not all of these express ideas which are in full accordance with the teachings of the Church, so caution must be exercised in the choice of litanies to be prayed privately. The litanies which follow are suggestions which may be helpful:
• Litany of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales
• Litany of the Passion
• Litany of the Resurrection
• Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim
• Litany to St John Paul II
• Litany to the Divine Mercy
• Litany of Humility.”
Litany of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales: On 25th October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonized the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, “to the glory of the holy and undivided Trinity, for the honour of the universal faith and the advancement of Christian life”. The forty were chosen from among the hundreds of those who, in the dark days of the persecution of faithful Catholics, had died for the faith.”
Litany of the Passion: (Bl. John Henry Newman) Blessed John Henry Newman was, as is well known, a convert to Catholicism (1845), and we see in this litany how he meditated upon the sufferings of our Lord. This is part of a whole scheme of litanies written by Newman for use at various times of the year;9 this one is suggested for the latter part of Lent.”
Litany of the Resurrection: (Bl. John Henry Newman) This litany is also part of Newman’s scheme for the year; it is suggested for use from Easter Day until 1st May. The scheme does not seem to have been finished but the completed parts were published after Newman’s death.”
Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim: This litany was apparently recited in the seminary at Kraków, especially on the eve of a priestly ordination and thus would have been prayed (in Latin) by Pope John Paul II as a seminarian there. He is said to have often prayed it in later life also.11 The language is rich in symbolism and biblical imagery.”
Litany to St John Paul II: St John Paul II was born in Poland in 1920, ordained priest in 1946 and bishop in 1958. He was elected pope in 1978, died in 2005 and was declared a saint on 27th April 2014. His feast day is 22nd October. The litany has an imprimatur, dated 12th April 2011, from Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, Archbishop of Kraków.”
Litany to the Divine Mercy: St John Paul II wished to remind the world of the boundless mercy of God, and in the year 2000 he pronounced that the first Sunday after Easter (Low Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter) would be known throughout the Church as Divine Mercy Sunday. In this Litany we ask for the mercy of God for ourselves and for others, we express our trust in his mercy and ask for God’s help in showing his mercy to others.”
Litany of Humility: This is usually attributed to Servant of God Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), Secretary of State under Pope St Pius X, although (perhaps aptly enough) some have claimed it wasn’t in fact written by him but by someone else inspired by his writings. In its original form, this litany does not have the usual beginning and ending; these have been attached for the sake of consistency and convenience, but can of course be omitted.”
“A Final Prayer O God, who sent your only Son to become man, to suffer, die and rise again for our salvation; as he on earth taught us how to pray, so keep us faithful in prayer and good works that we may come at last with Blessed Mary and all the saints to your kingdom in heaven. Amen.”
I included the descriptions of each of the Litanies included in this volume. I already prayed 2 of the litanies on this list most days, and I have added 2 of the litanies in this volume to my daily prayer plan. This is another excellent volume by Amette Ley and from the Catholic Truth Society. My wife is not Catholic and has asked me about the repetition in litanies before. This volume will answer her questions way better than I had previously. I can easily recommend this volume. It is an excellent resource!

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.

For reviews of other books in the CTS Devotions series click here.

Books by Amette Ley:
CTS Primary Religious Education: Pupil Book Year 4
Stations of Mercy with Pope Francis
The Hope of Christmas with Pope Francis
The Promise of New Life: Lent and Easter with Pope Francis

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