Hyde Park Litany… of the… Sacred Heart

Hyde ParkWhen the Holy Father was at Hyde Park in London, there was a species of The Litany of the Sacred Heart.

It was curtailed and there were interpolated intercessions, very contemporary, very much suggesting the ramifications of the clerical sexual abuse crisis as well as – though perhaps less so – anti-Catholic sentiment.

I wrote at the time:

"Don’t know about that…"

I am ambivalent.  I think it is proper to make litanies current and relevant.  That is why most of them developed: a pressing need or catastrophe loomed and people needed help.

Also, the Holy Father can add to or take from litanies as it pleaseth him.  John Paul II officially added to the Litany of Loreto.

But what happened at Hyde Park struck me as odd.  

First, there was the fact of various readers for the intercessions.  It didn’t seem liturgical.  It seemed terribly self-conscious.  It seemed – as so much does in contemporary liturgy – to be an effort to get as many people of different ethnic backgrounds or states of life involved as possible.

I picked this up from the blog Countercultural Father.

Liturgical infantilism v. liturgical wisdom

Others have commented on the re-writing of the Litany of the Sacred Heart. I noticed something else.

The Litany was split up with different readers reading a few invocations each.

That struck me as indicative of one of the problems with liturgy in this country, which I call liturgical infantilism, and was in stark contrast to the Holy Father’s approach.

When the Holy Father is engaged in a liturgical action, it is all about Christ: hence his insistence on a crucifix on the altar. He switches modes, very deliberately, from his interactions with the faithful, before and after Mass, when the focus is on relating to them, to focus on the serious business of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication… The person of the celebrant almost disappears; he becomes transparent, so we see Christ through him. It is not all about the front-man.

But liturgists in the UK don’t seem to understand this, and the Litany was a glaring example of the problem. By splitting the Litany up – presumably so as to ‘include’ more people, and possibly with the intention of making something long ‘less boring’ they distract from the focus on the Sacred Heart and draw attention to the reader: who is it now? who is it next? How well was that read? Why did they choose him? and so on

But what the Holy Father did brilliantly was to demonstrate by example that worthy and reverent liturgy is hugely attractive and intensely prayerful. Let us hope and pray that our bishops noticed: I look forward to their copying his example, not least in the manner of the distribution of Holy Communion…



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  1. Jon says:

    Being a member of an FSSP parish where Benediction is celebrated each month with great reverence and beauty, I felt like I’d been slapped while watching this. I found the litany “a banal, on the spot product.” and I found the multiple readers drawing my focus away from Christ and the touching sight of His pleading Vicar to…the reader.

    Novus Ordo delenda est.

  2. irishgirl says:

    I was dismayed when I heard this ‘banal, on the spot product’. Why do liturgists have to mess everything up?

    ‘If it a’int broke, don’t fix it!’

    SIgh….I’m with you, Jon….

  3. Henry Edwards says:

    The countercultural father has got it right about multicultural readers which, aside from the liturgical tone-deafness, strike me as condescending. Like, “Pat all these folks on their various pretty heads and send them on their various ways”. (However well-intentioned the expert liturgical planners may be.)

  4. It’s not a bad instinct in itself to involve tons of people. But.

    The place for visibly including tons of people of all walks of life is in processions, Living Rosaries, and that sort of devotion, where seeing the people of God worshipping in public in numbers is part of the point of the form of worship. If everybody had come into Hyde Park like it was the athletes coming into the Olympics Stadium, processing behind the Holy Eucharist, that would have made some sense.

    That in turn would take pressure off the liturgical and semi-liturgical stuff to be “inclusive”, because after all that walking and singing, everybody would just want some praying done and not to be on stage. :)

  5. Hieronymus says:

    This sort of thing is in the logical chain of the entire new liturgical system. Everything is subject to change, everything can and should be adapted to the order or feeling of the day. “Liturgical jobs” need to be multiplied until everyone has their special part to play on the stage. It is a variety show geared toward stroking the affections.

  6. Fr. Basil says:

    I did not see this event, thought I watched all the others.

    I’m sure it would not have happened WITHOUT His Holiness’s permission.

    My understanding is that there are only about half-dozen or so Litanies that are approved for public recitation in the Roman rite.

  7. steve jones says:

    If we are being honest the liturgy was pretty awful during the papal visit. Curious how the traditional Scottish pipers stirred the heart on the first day but Macmillan’s music simply failed to do the same during the Mass. We have decades more of this craziness with the new translations about to be imposed upon us without any preparation nor any catechesis.

  8. Giles H says:

    Fr Basil, I would be surprised if the Holy Father had seen a copy far enough in advance in order to give his approval (or otherwise) to the Litany. The Magnificat Booklets for the visit must’ve been printed months ago. Likewise, some of the hymns- one- where the congregation sang ‘Be Still and Know that I am God’; I took a rain check on that one… Can’t think PBXVI is that keen either.

  9. Geoffrey says:

    This modified form of the Litany of the Sacred Heart took place at what was called a “prayer vigil”, at which there is much liberty because there are no rubrics for a “prayer vigil” in the Roman Missal, Roman Ritual, etc.

    This vigil did include two items from the Church’s liturgy: the Liturgy of the Word and Exposition/Adoration/Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Other than that, the prayer vigil itself wasn’t really a liturgy per se, as far as it did not come from a liturgical book.

    And as I said in a previous entry, litanies are usually for private devotion. It’s not like the texts of the Mass were changed. Does “Say the Black, Do the Red” (which I wholeheartedly believe in) extend to prayers outside of the liturgical books? How many of us when praying the Litany of the Saints privately add in the names of our own favourite saints who are not officially listed in the litany?

    I just think some sort of distinction should be made. This wasn’t Mass or Vespers, etc.

  10. Kaneohe says:

    I am curious about what people think about th e topic of this post so let’s be specific – there are two discussion items here:
    1. the way the Litany was said (using multiple readers)
    2. the modifications (changes/additions/ whatever one wants to call it) to the Litany

    Which of the two bothered people the most? And specifically why?

  11. Henry Edwards says:

    Steve Jones: If we are being honest the liturgy was pretty awful during the papal visit.

    Perhaps you saw neither the Westminster Abbey Vespers nor the Westminster Cathedral Mass, both of which I thought were utterly magnificent.

    We have decades more of this craziness with the new translations about to be imposed upon us without any preparation nor any catechesis.

    Perhaps you are not here in the U.S., where it appears that we will have catechesis and preparation beyond all reason in preparation for the Advent 2011 introduction. Whereas (aside from printing delays) I’d not see any reason it wouldn’t go smoothly a year sooner, this coming Advent 2010.

  12. lucy says:

    I didn’t get to watch this event, but I just want to comment on the photo itself. There’s something really special about the Holy Father kneeling down in front of Our Lord Himself with all the cosmic beauty of the stars right behind the altar.

  13. Hieronymus says:

    Geoffrey —

    This, like so many of the liturgical innovations over the past forty years, is not a question of “CAN they” (as in “do they have the authority”) to change x or y liturgical practice. Most of the time, they certainly have the juridical authority to do so.

    The real question is “SHOULD they” change x or y practice. To determine this, one would have to look at the practice before and after, and, if possible, look at the motivation for the change. Was it done to clarify, i.e. make more explicitly Catholic, what was perhaps ambiguous? Or to make more beautiful what was perhaps unsightly or awkward?

    For forty years now, I cannot think of a singly change that has been done in this spirit. In the best cases, changes seem to to just be changes for the sake of change — disruptions to popular piety. Most of the time, though, they render ambiguous what was previously too clearly Catholic (which changes most often seem to be born of pressure to be more politically correct and “up with the times”). Most people won’t argue that the pope doesn’t have the juridical ability to allow communion in the hand or girl altar-boys, or to suppress the minor orders and send out armies of lay posers to fill their spots, or to add an extra set of mysteries to the Rosary that is recited at the Vatican. There are plenty of us, though, who lament such efforts to coddle the enemies of the Faith, because in the end the enemy is never appeased, and more often than not there is great harm done to our Catholic sensibility.

    In this case, was the litany better after the change, did it offer greater glory to the Sacred Heart? Or was it more directed at the press, who want the Church to be collectively impugned by the charge of pedophilia, and to collectively acknowledge our guilt?

  14. Geoffrey says:

    “Or was it more directed at the press, who want the Church to be collectively impugned by the charge of pedophilia, and to collectively acknowledge our guilt?”

    Or was it a prayer from the aching heart of Holy Mother Church?

  15. pattif says:

    I was there and, believe me, the experience of kneeling in prayer with the successsor of Peter was SO special that nothing could detract from it.

    That said, it was a pity about the multi-voice litany, espcially the noise of the microphone being fumbled as it was passed from hand to hand, and one of the readers lost the place and inadvertently (?) excised a great chunk of it. It also seemed inexplicable that this large group of Catholics gathered at a prayer vigil was offered no opportunity to pray the Rosary together. We also thought the failure to offer the opportunity of Confession was a pity, although, through God’s providence, my friend and I happened on a (perhaps the only?) priest who had come armed with a stole for the purpose.

    Still, the silence during Exposition will stay with me forever. You could have heard a pin drop, even on the grass.

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