The Litany Keeps Things in Perspective

The surest way to get stuck in a personal rut is to lose perspective. All of us go through times when we become blinkered. Our everyday lives, in such periods, don’t seem to turn up anything interesting or novel. Everybody feels like this occasionally. But while it’s perfectly normal, it isn’t a nice place to be.

There are, however, ways to help yourself. I find, as quite a fretful person by nature, that only by pushing myself out into the world – where solitary retreat would’ve been easier – that I regain some confidence.

I, like everyone, fear what I don’t understand. And so, to strike out into new pursuits – professional or social – and encounter new people and situations, is to conquer that angst and overcome the rut.

I’ve been thinking about how the Church of Ireland’s liturgy, that invaluable source of our beliefs, can help us keep things in perspective. After leafing through the different offices in the prayerbook, I could locate none as wide-ranging in the breadth of issues it addresses – thus directing our sometimes-too-narrow focus outwards, to the wider world – as our litany.

The litany has always been something of a Cinderella within Irish Anglicanism; we don’t use it often for corporate worship. It’s most associated with Ash Wednesday, but it’s there in the prayerbook for anyone to read at any time. Those who practice personal devotions will find it a good resource.

It starts with a statement of trinitarian doctrine, one which ties God’s three-in-oneness firmly to His mercy. The close relation between God’s triune existence and His merciful character is a mystery we try to decipher at our own peril. But we do know that all three Persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – each execute a distinctive role in our salvation, united in one will: to restore us.

Yes, ‘God wants everyone to be saved and to know the whole truth’ (1 Timothy 2.4, CEV). In the litany, then, there are petitions for our deliverance from all kinds of evil. After each of these, we say the antiphon, ‘Good Lord, deliver us.’ The list of wrongs to be denounced is about as brief and succinct as a four-year-old’s Christmas list; I told you this was a wide-ranging prayer!

o All evil and mischief.

o Sin, the craft and assaults of the devil.

o Thy wrath, and everlasting damnation.

o All blindness of heart.

o Pride, vain-glory, and hypocrisy.

o Envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness.

o Fornication, and all other deadly sin.

o All the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

o Lightning and tempest.

o Plague, pestilence, and famine.

o Battle and murder, and sudden death.

o All sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion.

o All false doctrine, heresy, and schism.

o Hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and Commandment.

Above is a list of all that from which we require liberation to make any progress in the Christian journey. But we can often dwell so much on our problems, like when we fall into those personal ruts, that we fail to pursue solutions. And so, the litany proceeds to name the means by which Our Lord works redemption in our lives:

o The mystery of thy holy Incarnation.

o Thy holy Nativity and Circumcision.

o Thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation.

o Thine agony and bloody Sweat.

o Thy Cross and Passion.

o Thy precious Death and Burial.

o Thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension

o The coming of the Holy Spirit.

With our souls repaired through faith in Christ, we move on to pray for wise rulers. Boy, do we need stable government again in Britain. In September, Liz Truss was to be the new Lady Thatcher. That was before she crashed the Pound. She walked after 50 days. Please God, then, ‘That it may please thee to endue the Ministers of the Crown, and all in authority, with grace, wisdom, and understanding.’

But it isn’t only temporal or political powers we remember before God, it’s our spiritual guides too. The litany has a foot in both realms of leadership. We call on God to prepare His ministers well for ordination, ‘and that it may please thee to rule and govern thy holy Church universal in the right way.’

We then offer up a smorgasbord of other entreaties! About a quarter of the litany comprises miscellaneous prayers for divine intervention; each is followed with, ‘We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.’ We make a theological assumption, therefore, that God can – and, indeed, will – receive our prayers. He’s not a brick wall that we plead with to no purpose. Generations have taken great heart in this conviction.

11/28/2022 3:41:02 PM
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  • Matthew Allen
    About Matthew Allen
    Matthew Allen is a writer and musician based in Northern Ireland. He is a graduate of Queen’s University, Belfast, where he studied Theology and Liberal Arts.