Thursday, April 25, 2013


For centuries (until abolished by Paul VI in 1969), the "Greater Litanies," as they were known (in contrast to the "Lesser Litanies" on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Thursday)  were faithfully observed on April 25 - the "Rogation Procession" replacing the pre-Christian, pagan rituals previously associated with this day in ancient Rome. As I observed last year on this date, the switch from paganism to Christianity did not change pre-modern people's consciousness of their dependence on nature or their need for a successful harvest or the value of ritualizing those needs on traditonal days.  At the time, I wondered whether our rationalized late 20th-century liturgy's eager abandonment of such reminders of our connectedness and dependence may perhaps not have been such a smart idea, after all.

The use of the term “Greater Litanies” highlights the centrality of the singing of the Litany of the Saints in the traditional Rogation procession. The Litany of the Saints lends itself to lots of liturgical and devotional, uses especially in processions – most visibly recently in the procession of the Cardinals entering the conclave that elected Pope Francis this past March. In its traditional (pre-1969) form, the Litany has three parts. The first contains the actual invocations of certain saints from apostolic times through the late Middle Ages. The second part of the litany then enumerates some of the various ills from which we pray to be delivered - from all evils, sin, the wrath of God, sudden and unprovided death, the snares of the devil, anger, hatred, and ill will, the spirit of fornication, lightning and tempest, the scourge of earthquake, plague, famine, and war, everlasting death, and in the day of judgment.

Then, in the third part of the litany, having acknowledged our neediness ("We, sinners, we beseech you, hear us"), we then specify some of those needs in a realistic mixture of petitions that combine our here-and-now needs with eternal ones - that the Lord spare us, pardon us, bring us to true repentance, govern and preserve his holy Church, preserve our apostolic prelate and all orders of the Church in holy religion, humble the enemies of the Church, grant peace and concord to Christian kings and princes, grant peace and unity to Christian nations, strengthen and preserve us in his holy service, raise our minds to heavenly desires, reward with eternal good all our benefactors, deliver us, our friends, relatives, and benefactors from eternal damnation, give and preserve the fruits of the earth, and grant eternal rest to the faithful departed.
Of course, particular petitions reflect the specific circumstances of the time that got them included in the litany, but that's quite a comprehensive list. It specificity does not exclude other concerns but rather points us int he direction of comprehensiveness.
It might seem pointlessly nostalgic to hanker for rogations processions, but there is nothing nostalgic or romantic about the neediness and dependence that motivated them and that are reflected and expressed in the petitions of the litany - neediness and dependence that remain at the heart of our human experience in a aoerld every bit as threatening and challenging as it was to our ancestors..

That's quite a nice list

No comments:

Post a Comment