Because your friends won't tell you: Modifying litany

I don’t expect low church folk to shoosh through a litany like a gold-medal skier through the giant slalom (like a Russian church priest and choir) but evidence of life would be nice. Many times there isn’t any evidence, and that’s little wonder given the litany form isn’t really native to it.

Worship leader and congregation praying a litany takes a certain rhythm; indeed, so does a repsonsive psalm or reading, but these tend to be written in a more fluid fashion. And newer litanies tend to be particularly clunky.

Litanies seem to “give the laity” a participatory voice in worship, but I’m doubtful since they tend to be written by clergy; another case of accidential clericalism, I think. A common liturgy is fine but there’s no use pretending it is something it isn’t.

The litany form is a petition with a response, like

O God, preserve us from frogs, toads, and diverse amphibians: (for example)
Lord, hear our prayer.

And so forth.

A sing-songy cadence offen follows. Plus, given the mod fetish of having silence pepper (but never quite filling) worship, a medium sized litany can be spun out at a grinding pace. That said, I heard a worship leader in a certain small Swedenborgian church do a nice job with a litany. Whether it was written this way, or if he or someone else adopted it, I do not know. But the way it was cast suggests how other litanies can be improved.

Imagine the same petition cast this way

O God, preserve us from frogs, toads, and diverse amphibians, we pray. (Pause.)

A breath-long pause — the people’s visceral and unspoken response — follows, and then the next petition. Prayer becomes more like breathing than labor. Note, in this church, there’s an established time for calling for prayer petitions before where a litany would be, so this is far from parochial passivity.

Nothing radical here, but something to consider.

One Reply to “Because your friends won't tell you: Modifying litany”

  1. I’m printing this out for my class on Worship. I only worry that some overly literal, earnest seminarian might write a litany praying to be preserved from amphibians.

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