What is a Litany?

The word litany comes from the Greek word meaning “supplication” or “petition.” From early times, the Church has incorporated litanies in her liturgies, such as the Litany of Saints during an Ordination Mass. Also, the Church has composed litanies for devotional purposes, such as the Litany of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

How is a Litany beneficial to my spiritual life, and why so many repetitive responses?

Litanies can help us focus on a particular saint or virtue. For example, the Litany of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus stresses mercy and reparation. The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary focuses on the many titles of our Lady and how she helps specific groups or people, such as the titles: Queen of Families, Health of the Sick, Refuge of Sinners, etc. The reason litanies seem so repetitive is that they give us an example of how to pray. First, we should try to pray “without ceasing.” Although we can’t formally pray “all the time,” a litany will help us establish a habit of repetitive prayer. In other words, the goal is to be thinking about God all the time or to contemplate His love in the “background” of our busyness. Secondly, praying litanies reminds us of our dependency upon God, especially by practicing the virtue of humility. When someone prays a litany and constantly repeats words such as “have mercy on us” or “pray for us,” we are reminded that without God, we can do nothing; with God, we can do everything!

Who approves Litanies?

The Church, in her wisdom, approves litanies for public use. People may have litanies that they pray for private use, such as the Litany of the Holy Spirit (which many pray in preparation for Total Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, according to St. Louis de Montfort).

What other Litanies are approved by the Church?

Litanies of: the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Most Holy Name of Jesus, and the Most Precious Blood. Many people pray the Litany of Humility as well.


By Rev. Joseph Aytona, C.P.M.