On the first Sunday of Lent, Feb 14th at St. John’s we will pray the “Great Litany.” For 472 years Anglicans have prayed with deep faith this litany during penitential times and in times of discernment, distress, war and disaster. The Great Litany (BCP: 148-53) was written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and first published in 1544. It was the first “liturgical service” made available in the English language and has been included in every edition of the Book of Common Prayer since 1549. The Great Litany is a time-honored text in the Anglican liturgical patrimony.
This Litany is composed of 42 petitions. It begins with the invocation of the blessed and glorious Trinity, one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The petitioner asks the Lord, that in spite of one’s sins, in mercy apply the saving mysteries of His Incarnation, Nativity, and submission to the Law, Baptism, Fasting, Temptation, Agony, Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and the Coming of the Holy Ghost to heal the mortal soul and mind.
God applies each of these saving actions to deliver us from evil and wickedness, from the lies of the devil and from everlasting damnation. They deliver us from blindness of heart, pride, hypocrisy, envy, hatred, and malice; from all inordinate and sinful affections, and the deceit found in the world. Christ may now find in us our “lamps lit” (Lk 12:35) so in the hour of our death and in the day of our judgment we may attain God’s heavenly Kingdom as our eternal home.
We pray for the Church through-out the world, for her ministry and for Christians who suffer for their faith and conscience, for Christians who have wandered away from the faith that they may return, for all civil authorities, peace, and for all in need.
The petitioner’s primary identity is that of a penitent. He seeks earnest forgiveness and amendment of life. He prays for his enemies. He prays for justice and for his triumph over every evil, and for eternal life and peace, and with all the saints he prays for the repose of the dead in Christ.
Anglicans understand the power of prayer. Prayer brings us in line with the way of truth; it can give us a heart to love and a desire to live after God’s commandments. Prayer can inspire, purify, preserve, protect and comfort. It can strengthen the weak-hearted, raise up the fallen, and beat down Satan who always lurks at the Christian’s door.
With all these prayers and intentions in mind the Great Litany concludes with the Agnus Dei, the Kyrie eleison, the Lord’s Prayer and a concluding collect asking that we may obtain what we have prayed for.