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.


  1. Really enjoyed this commentary on the Great Litany-more of this kind of reflection is very sorely needed on the internet based on the [Book Of Common Prayer] which I believe is a great treasure of the Episcopal Church that is taken for granted in the Holy Church.
    Thank you for posting this blog.
    God Bless

  2. Thank you very much!
    Will be talking with a new Episcopalian about BCP and this will be great to share with her.

  3. Thank you. I am talking with a new Episcopalian about the BCP and this will be great to share with her.

  4. I am grateful that this has been of value to you, Pat. The Great Litany is a very fine way for one to Anglicanism to develop a balanced intercessory life with themes of mission and justice connected to those of our essential theology and ascetic practice. I hope to continue working on this project...perhaps finishing it during Lent.