Thursday, August 13, 2009
Reflections on the Great Litany - a preface
There are few better prayers in our tradition than the Great Litany for breadth and depth. Once, this litany accompanied each Sunday’s transition from Morning Prayer to the Holy Communion. It formed what was sometimes called the “English Introit,” a rich and probing series of petitions, praying for “all sorts and conditions” of humanity as the Church prepared to offer the Holy Mysteries "for the life of the world."
The Litany was also used at the end of Morning and Evening Prayer, to provide an intercessory balance to the Office’s other components of confession, instruction, and praise. In addition, it was also a separate devotion, often at Noonday, especially in Lent and at times of great national or communal upheaval.
Today, it is rarely seen or heard in most Episcopal Churches. Some in our comfort-driven era greet this with joy, fatigued by its length and a perceived “negative” character. Yet, a careful study of this litany yields much treasure in today's era of watered-down or entertainment-focused worship. For the coming weeks, it is my hope to enter into this ancient offering of prayer and come to a renewed understanding of its place in the teaching and practice of a faithful, apostolic Anglicanism of today.
There are many online resources which speak to the history and structure of the Great Litany (and litanies in general). Suffice it to say that the Great Litany actually pre-dates the Book of Common Prayer, and has been revised from time-to-time in the editions of the BCP since. The form used for these reflections will be that of the 1979 BCP of the Episcopal Church.
Of your courtesy, pray God's blessing on this endeavor.