Last weekend I sang the ordination of two new priests. Having only sung one ordination prior (7 years ago), if you had asked me about the rite, the only thing I would have remembered was that it includes a litany of saints.
For a jaded old church nerd like me, it takes something special to move me (for instance, it’s rare that the Agnus Dei lights my fire). Certain liturgical elements, thanks to their rarity, catch my attention (I’m a sucker for a good Sequence) and a litany is one of them. This weekend we sang Becker’s popular setting of the litany. As we invoked saint after saint, while the newest members of the presbyterate lay prostrate, I became unexpectedly emotional.
The assembly repeated “pray for us” as we called upon saints familiar (Mary & Joseph), arcane (Chrysogonus & Hippolytus) and particular to our Jesuit community (Ignatius & Francis). On other occasions I have sung litanies that put Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day and Pedro Arrupe alongside Linus, Cletus and Clement. Where do we get the confidence to call upon our heroes to petition God on our behalf?
Any Catholic concerned with public perception keeps all this saints hoo-ha quiet if they can. Maybe we hedge a bit, acknowledging that we admire these people, but leaving out the more radical part of our claim to the saints: we believe there is something so generous and holy about them that they will back up our prayers.
As we asked for prayers on Saturday, what really took my breath away was the list we had in front of us, one that only skims the surface of our wealth of heavenly intercessors. And even when we mumble our response, or can’t hear the cantor, or let our eyes and minds wander, the saints are still on our side, welcoming us into their communion. What greater advocates can we have than the saints named and unnamed, living in love with God forever?
[Two notes on the litany – I tried to find a recording of the Becker setting to which to link, but I was unable to find one that wasn’t either out of tune, goopily sentimental, or one singer overdubbing his own responses to the invocations. Also, after the ordination I said something flippant about not knowing why a piece of music that is mildly cheesy was so moving. Luckily I was with the Jesuits, one of whom had a characteristic reply enumerating all of the evidence for this being the superior setting of the litany. Typical]
In lieu of a sound clip, I will include a photo of myself and one of my favorite saints.