I had forgotten the Litany of the Saints. When I heard the familiar melody at the Easter Vigil a few weeks ago—I realized I had forgotten all about it.
It was a strange oversight. I had so eagerly told my friends of the Easter flame that would burn and crackle in the dark sanctuary, the bells that would clamor during the Gloria, and the new baptisms and the renewal of our own—but I had said nothing of the names we would chant together. Nothing of the familiar faces that would appear in my mind as I called out these names—images from famous paintings or from the descriptions embedded in epic hagiographies. Nothing of the silent prayers I would offer them at the end of the refrain when the lyrics would cease for a moment and I would be left wordless, staring up at the ceiling with hope.
When I heard the familiar notes of the opening bars, I wanted to drop to my knees. Having grown up in a church without kneelers, I am not one to genuflect on a whim. Yet, as I began to recite these familiar names and recall the great lives that comprise my church, the immensity of the tradition came upon me. I needed this.
Referring to the current headlines about the Catholic Church, people have been telling me, “This too will pass.” They have been reminding me of the two thousand years that make up this church, and the inevitable failures that accompany such a life span. They’ve been telling me to remember all the good things about Catholicism. But I wasn’t thinking about that while whispering my melodious petitions to St. Francis and St. Clare, to Dorothy Day to Thomas Merton. The Litany of the Saints did not fill me with happy Catholic thoughts about cheerful Catholic people. Not then. Rather, it reminded me that I am not alone in my anxious prayers for this church. I am not alone in my petitions about the terrible things done and the desperate healing that’s needed. I am not alone in the prayers that pour out of my grief and worry.
Pray for us…Pray for us…Pray for us….With the sound of this familiar song, I had the sense that the weight of this church was pushing us all to our knees. All of us. We are not alone as we carry the weight of this church. Pray for us…Pray for us…Pray for us….
Jessica Coblentz is currently working toward a Master of Theological Studies degree at Harvard Divinity School. Follow her writing on the Web at www.jessicacoblentz.com.