Of all the services in our American Book of Common Prayer, “The Great Litany” is one of my favourites.
A Litany is a prayer consisting of a series of invocations and supplications by the leader with alternate responses by the congregation.
The “Great Litany” as used in the Episcopal Church is more or less a direct descendant of the one compiled by Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer in 1544. Thus Christians in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition have prayed in the same words for over 450 years.
There were days when the Litany was a regular part of Sunday morning fare. These days it is used only in Lent - if at all. (The parish I attend these days never uses it).
More’s the pity, for the Great Litany forces us to have a concern for God’s world and God’s church which is much wider and broader than “normal Sunday prayer”.
For instance it causes us to pray for:
All prisoners and captives
All who are desolate and oppressed
All women in childbirth (still a dangerous experience for some in our world, and for many women in the developing world).
For our enemies, persecutors and slanderers.
In fact the Great Litany encourages us to “pray around the world”, thus delivering us from our usually parochial and often petty concerns.
I was “on duty” tonight at the 5:30 p.m. Wednesday Eucharist at St. Boniface on Siesta Key. I knew that the gathering would include some 18 students from the Central Michigan University who are in Florida for Spring Break. They are part of an Evangelical Church at their University – see http://cmu.hhcf.org/
These students are sleeping at St. B’s. During the day time they are working with Habitat for Humanity, restoring houses for lower income people. That is impressive – much more so than the wet tee shirt contest, get laid, and too much booze Spring Break which is the norm.
So, I knew that 18 or so young people from an Evangelical background would be at the Eucharist.
I could have pandered to them by dumbing down the service.
Instead I decided to rachet it up.
I gave a brief introduction to the Great Litany, and then we prayed it. Oh yes, we prayed it.
These fabulous students from Central Michigan University prayed the litany with respect, dignity and grace. They allowed themselves to be “stretched” and blessed with a form of prayer which was brand new to them. (Not one of them was Episcopalian - I checked this out!).
‘Twas a steep learning curve for them, and for me. It was a time when liberal and evangelical Christians were united in the Holy Presence.
So it was that I in turn honoured their tradition.
Instead of the Prayer Book post communion prayer we sang a song from the Evangelical Church. It runs this way.
Father we adore You, Lay our lives before You. How we love You.
Jesus we adore You, Lay our lives before You. How we love You.
Spirit we adore You, Lay our lives before You. How we love You.
(Indeed it’s a sorta “Litany” song!)