The tale of The Great Litany. . . hear us oh Lord. . .

“True prayer is done in secret, but this does not rule out the fellowship of prayer altogether, however clearly we may be aware of its dangers. In the last resort it is immaterial whether we pray in the open street or in the secrecy of our chambers, whether briefly or lenghtily, in the Litany of the Church, or with the sigh of one who knows not what he should pray for. True prayer does not depend either on the individual or the whole body of the faithful, but solely upon the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows our needs.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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(a painting I did years ago of a meeting between Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa—I include it as you can see in her hand that she holds onto a rosary as Mother Teresa was known to be in a constant state of prayer–that she had trained her mind and heart to be at constant prayer even while simultaneously engaged—just as John Paul was known to do the same. . ./ Julie Cook / 2011)

Looking at the word count, before I even typed a single letter, it was topping out at 1188—
Makes one not want to read what’s going on in such a post as that is just way too many words. . .but I promise, I didn’t write them!!!
The reason behind such a hefty tally was the fact that I had cut and paste a copy of The Great Litany as taken from The Book Of Common Prayer–all before typing a single word–1188 words!!
Yes, the “prayer” is that long. . .
Which brings me to the meat of this post. . .

Growing up in a liturgical church, during various services, we would often recite The Great Litany, all while kneeling mind you!

I can remember when I was in high school attending church—it was (still is) a beautiful gothic Cathedral. Cavernously deep, tall and wide as the traditional architectural shape was that of a latin cross.

I’d settle into my favorite pew, the third down from the top, on the right side of the aisle, listening to the massive organ gently offering the ‘music voluntary’–those random tunes played pre- service as members ambled in taking their seats.
Eyeing the day’s service program, my heart would sink when I saw that The Great Litany was to be included in the service. It was almost enough to make me want to get up, walk out, cross the street and head over to the Catholic Cathedral for service (of which I had been known to do if I wasn’t keen on who was preaching).

A reiterated Litany could leave one perched on a kneeler for what seemed to be an eternity.

“hear us Oh Lord. . .” over and over and over. . .as the monotone priest would offer each sectioned prayer before God and congregant with each recited response rising equally as monotonous from the congregation. . .

“Good Lord, deliver us”

Yet I must admit there was always something I found deeply soothing about that prayer–just as I do so still to this day.

The Great Litany traces it’s roots back to 5th century Rome, when during the early days of the Christian Church’s service, there was a repeated petition to God—it began as the latin prayer
Kyrie Elesion–

Kyrie Eleison
Christe Eleison
Kyrie Eleison

or

Lord Have Mercy Upon Us
Christ Have Mercy Upon Us
Lord Have Mercy Upon Us

It wasn’t until 1544 when the Anglican Archbishop Thomas Cranmer actually put together the litany into the format we know today. . .

On my knees, reading along in the prayer book, I always made a mental note that The Litany hit all the bases as it covered everything—and I mean everything and everyone. . .
It pleaded for our redemption, our pardon, for our need of forgiveness. . .
it espoused our wickedness, our sinfulness and our deep need for Grace. . .

“have mercy upon us”

Blessings were asked to be poured upon our leaders, our families, our churches, our nation, ourselves, our clergy, our world. . .you name it. . .it was petitioned and we implored. . .

“we beseech thee to hear us Good Lord”

Yet for all of its verbose manner it was keenly focused.
It was succinct.
And if the truth be told, it was razor sharp and efficient.

There are those who have never quite understood repetitive prayers in those more liturgical church services—the saying of the rosary or even that of the Jesus prayer. . .

Yet there is one thing I’ve learned over the years and that is prayer, just like anything else, needs to be practiced and honed—just as a learned skill.

Oh I can hear the free thinkers and spontaneous ones among us now grumbling. . .
Prayer, which is a form of conversation with the Divine Being of God, requires a clear heart as well as mind and much focus. . .

How many times, when you’ve gone to God in prayer, that as soon as you close your eyes picking up your rosary, or prayer beads, or folding your hands it’s—suddenly it’s as if thought after thought comes crashing to mind. . .
“was that the phone?”
“Did I turn out the lights?”
“Did I lock the door?”
“Did I feed the dog?”
“Oh gosh, I need to call the bank, NOW!”

An assault of thoughts begin to assail the mind, urging the body to take immediate action—
It’s rather hard to pray when a million thoughts, along with an ever growing to do list, all begin to formulate in one’s head. . .the dark one is insidious that way. . .like a fly that just won’t stop buzzing around your face, demanding to be dealt with immediately.

Prayer, that sacredly private one on one time with The God of all Creation, requires our reverence, our determination, our hearts, our souls and our very busy crowded minds. . .

So there is definitely something, for me, soothing, cathartic and training about utilizing a litany, or repeated prayer as it were, when praying. It helps to provide a place to recenter, reconnect, to come back to when the mind takes off in a million different directions.
It is meditative, reflective, recentering and actually quite necessary. . .

So on this lengthy note—it’s time I get down to business while on my knees. . .
“hear me Oh Lord. . .

The Great Litany

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.

Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses, nor the offenses
of our forefathers; neither reward us according to our sins.
Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast
redeemed with thy most precious blood, and by thy mercy
preserve us, for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

From all evil and wickedness; from sin; from the crafts
and assaults of the devil; and from everlasting damnation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory,
and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want
of charity,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all inordinate and sinful affections; and from all the
deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness
of heart, and contempt of thy Word and commandment,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and
flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from
violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and
unprepared,
Good Lord, deliver us.

By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity
and submission to the Law; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and
Temptation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion;
by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection
and Ascension; and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.

In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in
the hour of death, and in the day of judgment,
Good Lord, deliver us.

We sinners do beseech thee to hear us, O Lord God; and that
it may please thee to rule and govern thy holy Church
Universal in the right way,
We beesech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to illumine all bishops, priests, and
deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of thy
Word; and that both by their preaching and living, they may
set it forth, and show it accordingly,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to bless and keep all thy people,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to send forth laborers into thy
harvest, and to draw all mankind into thy kingdom,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give to all people increase of grace
to hear and receive thy Word, and to bring forth the fruits of
the Spirit,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to bring into the way of truth all such
as have erred, and are deceived,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give us a heart to love and fear
thee, and diligently to live after thy commandments,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee so to rule the hearts of thy servants,
the President of the United States (or of this nation), and all
others in authority, that they may do justice, and love mercy,
and walk in the ways of truth,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to make wars to cease in all the world;
to give to all nations unity, peace, and concord; and to
bestow freedom upon all peoples,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to show thy pity upon all prisoners
and captives, the homeless and the hungry, and all who are
desolate and oppressed,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give and preserve to our use the
bountiful fruits of the earth, so that in due time all may enjoy
them,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to inspire us, in our several callings,
to do the work which thou givest us to do with singleness of
heart as thy servants, and for the common good,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to preserve all who are in danger by
reason of their labor or their travel,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to preserve, and provide for, all
women in childbirth, young children and orphans, the
widowed, and all whose homes are broken or torn by strife,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to visit the lonely; to strengthen all
who suffer in mind, body, and spirit; and to comfort with thy
presence those who are failing and infirm,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to support, help, and comfort all who
are in danger, necessity, and tribulation,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to have mercy upon all mankind,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give us true repentance; to forgive
us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and to endue
us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit to amend our lives
according to thy holy Word,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to forgive our enemies, persecutors,
and slanderers, and to turn their hearts,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to strengthen such as do stand; to
comfort and help the weak-hearted; to raise up those who
fall; and finally to beat down Satan under our feet,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to grant to all the faithful departed
eternal life and peace,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to grant that, in the fellowship of
[__________ and] all the saints, we may attain to thy
heavenly kingdom,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.
Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Grant us thy peace.

O Christ, hear us.
O Christ, hear us.

Lord, have mercy upon us. Kyrie eleison.
Christ, have mercy upon us. or Christe eleison.
Lord, have mercy upon us. Kyrie eleison.

Veni, Veni Emanuel

Veni, veni Emmanuel;
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that morns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel

CIMG0281
(a woman worships in silence alone, in a small Florentine chapel in Florence, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

Growing up in an Anglican, more specifically, an American Episcopal Church, in a large Gothic Cathedral to be more exact, I was immersed at an early age with beautiful choral music and hymns. Many of which boast of ancient roots and beginnings. To hear and to feel the massive and beautiful organ deeply reverberating throughout the massive stone cavernous church as it engulfs one’s entire being, accompanying the voices of the classically trained choir, echoing and rising out from behind the chancel, was all short of magical.

I am very old fashioned when it comes to hymns and the music associated with that of a Cathedral. There is a solemnity and a reverence. Just merely reading the lyrics of these hymns, one is struck by the rich poetic history of the stories being told via the use of ancient song.

There are a handful of hymns, to this day, which tug upon my heart bringing tears to my eyes each opportunity I have, as either a member of a Sunday congregation or merely gently singing to myself as I go about my day–that move my heart to a place of deep reflection–an almost mystical reverence.

Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, the Latin version of O come O come, Emmanuel, is one such hymn. It is a hymn for the season of Advent, as that is the only time it is sung. It’s roots are indeed ancient as some scholars date it (the Latin version) to that of an 8th century Gregorian Chant. Others date it to either the 12th or 15th century France as a processional type of hymn. Even others date it to as earless the 18th century as an antiphon or type of sung liturgical response.

Sadly, I must confess that I don’t know a thing about music, as I’ve never been trained or had an opportunity of singing in a choir. I really can’t sing, but have always wished I could. So as I explain the power of this particular hymn, those of you who do understand music, please forgive me for I speak from my heart about this music and not of classical study.

O come O come Emmanuel is sung slowly, beginning quite low, being “sung” a cappella. It can be accompanied by an organ or other single instrument. Mannheim Steamroller, the wonderfully synthesizing modern music group, who has produced marvelous holiday music based from many medieval songs, has a beautiful rendition. It is very reminiscent of the chants heard from various early Christian monasteries–which is why I believe it does have it’s roots seeded in that of Gregorian Chants. The cadence is steady and specific–there is power in the simplistic rhythm of the 7 groups of stanzas which make up the full body of the text.

I understand the whole joyful noise business, but I am of the serious school when it comes to worship. The ancient hymns, that are more typical of a liturgical service, speak of solemn serious worship–meditative and reflective, which seem to rise up from one’s very core. There is not that over the top emotionalism so often associated with the prayer and praise musical services of today. In this chant, as well as other similar types of hymns, there is rather an acute awareness.

Much of the early Church’s music, which has it’s roots in Medieval Europe, speaks of wondrous mysteries as the world, to those who were apart of those “dark ages,” was indeed a mysterious time and place. They did know the things which we know today. Much of our scientific world has solved many of their mysteries and problems. Their musical worship was based deeply in a belief and faith that was undefinable, full of questions, wonderment and awe. God and the understanding of Him, His Son and that of the Holy Spirit was unfathomable–something not easily or readily defined or put in a nice little box of understanding. Their music reflected such. Mystery and awe.

This particular hymn / chant is serious, steady, determined, meaningful and lasting. It strikes at something very deep. It doesn’t get one worked up in a sweat induced, clap your hands and shout to the heavens sort of deal, but rather it is almost spoken, as in a statement that is meant to make those who hear it contemplate its very importance. It is almost mournful and heavy.

Why mournful and heavy you ask as we enter the season of Advent which, for the Church, marks a time of waiting and expectant watching you wonder. Are we not anticipating a birth? Is not the anticipation of a birth an event of great joy?

A time of joy, yes, and yet at the same moment, with this particular birth, comes a deep heaviness as it is a birth marked with tremendous hardship, only to be followed by the fleeing for safety and then a time of more waiting. The very conception, waiting and birth stay constantly in the shadow of Death. With this birth comes grave consequence for both me and you. . .and yet, as with all births, there is tremendous Hope of what will be.

And as with the anticipation of any birth comes a sense of urgency. The urgency here is of the coming of the one referred to as Emmanuel, as it is He who is come to ransom the captive Israel, which in turn refers to all of us today. He is to come and is to set the captives free. To free you and I from the prison of our sin and of our death. As we mourn throughout our “exile” or separation from our Father.

The Immanuel, Hebrew עִמָּנוּאֵל, which has been Romanized to Emmanuel–meaning God with Us, is invoked to come, to come to us all, but yet is acknowledged as already being here with us–the Omnipotent one. We sing to the God who is with us and yet who is to come, and who is to come quickly. We are then told to Rejoice, Rejoice because He will come, as He has come and as He will come again.

On this first Monday in this new season of Advent may we all be mindful of our continual need of this Holy Coming–of the one who will set and make things right, who will free both you and I from the constant presence of the shadow of Death—-who will bridge the gap of separation, as this Emmanuel is the only one who can and will and has done all of this! So may we Rejoice and Rejoice continually as He shall come to us indeed—Amen. Amen.