Nov 15, 2008

The Litany of Saints in the Liturgy

Online Edition: November 2008
Vol. XIV, No. 8

The Litany of Saints in the Liturgy
About Adding Names of Saints and Blesseds

by Father William Fitzgerald, O. Praem.

The Litany of Saints has been the subject of some discussion in the effort to restore and expand the liturgical use of the Church’s treasury of sacred music. There are official resources to aid in this review. After new liturgical books appeared following the Second Vatican Council Pope Paul VI issued the Ordo Cantus Missae (OCM – Order of Chants) in 1972, to indicate which of the chants would be sung during the liturgy, and on what occasions. The directives for the liturgical use of the Litany of Saints, reflecting the revision of the liturgical calendar and additional saints, is found in an appendix of the OCM.1

The OCM material is incorporated into the Graduale Romanum, published in 1973, and the same information is in the 1979 Graduale Triplex. The list of saints is updated in Ordo Rituum Conclavis [Order for Rites in a Conclave] published in 2000.2 (An English translation of the OCM introduction is in Documents on the Liturgy [DOL] # 535.)

According to the OCM, saints and blesseds whose names appear in the Church’s Martyrology may be added “at the proper place (suis locis) in the Litany”; and it also allows for other petitions “suitable to the occasion” and in the form proper to the Litany to be added “at the proper place”.

Saints and blesseds may be added because of their significance to various national, regional, and local Churches. Patron saints of significant groups of the faithful (e.g., ethnic groups, religious communities serving a local Church, as well as titular saints of a church, oratory, dedicated altar, or institution), and patron saints of candidates for baptism, confirmation or ordination may be added.

For processional purposes on occasions when a longer Litany of Saints is desired, the names of other appropriate saints may be added.

Liturgical Use of Litanies

Varying forms of the Litany of Saints are to be found, with particular groupings of saints and specific petitions for the Easter Vigil Litany, and for ordinations of ministers of different ranks, such as bishops, priests and deacons (for example, some of the particular saints for episcopal ordinations differ from those listed for diaconate ordinations).

Still other saints are listed for the abbatial blessing, religious profession, and dedication of altars and churches. Litanies appear in the Graduale Romanum also — one at the Easter Vigil and another for other occasions.

A list of saints in their proper groupings as given in the Ordo Cantus Missae and in the Ordo Rituum Conclavis appears below.

Some Practical Guidelines for Compiling a Litany

Only the names of Saints and Blessed listed in the Church’s Martyrologies may be used liturgically.

Some names are versions of saints’ names, for example, Brian is a Celtic form of Bernard; Barry is an Anglicization of the Irish Saint Finbarr. Sometimes a little research is required to determine if the name one wishes to add is really the name of a saint. (There is no Saint Brad, Saint Brooke, Saint Sky, Saint Amber, Saint Tiffany).

The saints names should appear in their proper categories given in the OCM, namely:

(i) Our Lady, (ii) Angels, (iii) Patriarchs and Prophets (the last of these is always Saint Joseph), (iv) Apostles and the Disciples of the Lord, (v) Martyrs, (vi) Bishops and Doctors of the Church, (vii) Priests and Religious, (viii) Laity. (Customarily, male saints are listed before female saints.)

Saints (and blesseds) whose names are inserted into a Litany ordinarily appear in historical order by date of death.

A little research is required to do this, though occasionally this order may vary, such as placing a member of a religious order (Francis Xavier d. 1552) after his founder (Ignatius Loyola d. 1556).

Some examples:

(a) if Saint Patrick were added, he would be placed among the bishops and doctors, after Saint Martin of Tours. Reason? Chronology: Saint Martin died. c. 316, and Saint Patrick died c. 460 (or 491).

(b) Saint Faustina (d. 1938) is after Saint Rose of Lima (d. 1617).

(c) Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (d. 1968) would come after Saint John Bosco (d. 1888) but before Saint Josemaría Escrivá (d. 1975).

(d) Saint Isidore the Farmer (d. 1130) would be placed among the laity, but before Saint Louis the King (d. 1258).

(e) Blessed Miguel Pro (d. 1927) would be placed among the martyrs after Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions (d. 1886), but before the earlier women martyrs, in this list.

(f) Saint Bernadette Soubrious (d. 1879) would be inserted among the religious after Saint Rose of Lima (d. 1617) but before Saint Therese of the Child Jesus (d. 1897).

• The older Religious Orders may retain the practice of invoking the intercession of their Founders and Legislators in their houses and apostolates by the appellation “Holy Father”.

Examples: Holy Father Elijah, Holy Father Augustine, Holy Father Norbert, Holy Father Dominic, Holy Father Francis. These saints also are placed in the proper category and proper historical chronology — again some research is needed. (It would be tautological to say “Holy Father Saint X”, since “Holy” and “Saint” are both translations of the Latin word “Sancte”.) For example, Norbertines would place “Holy Father Norbert” among bishops, bearing in mind the date of his death (1134) relative to the bishop saints before and after that date. Saint John of God (d. 1550) would be placed by his spiritual sons and daughters among priests and religious, before Saint Ignatius of Loyola (d. 1556).

It is also possible to personalize the invocation of the saints when the Litany is part of the funeral rites for an individual

(“Pray for him/her”) — as was done for the transfer of Pope John Paul II’s remains to Saint Peter’s Basilica in 2005.

On All Souls, November 2, or during a cemetery visitation, “Pray for them” replaces “Pray for us”.

The surnames that appear in brackets help distinguish which saint with the same name is being invoked.

Examples: Thomas Becket, Aquinas, or More. Cantors may include the bracketed name so that the people understand which saint is invoked.

• After the names of the saints are chanted, the invocations and then the supplications follow.

The invocations are addressed to Christ our Lord: e.g., “From all evil”; the response is “Lord, deliver us, we pray” (Libera nos Domine). Then the invocations of His mysteries follow, for example, “By Your Incarnation” with the same response.

Next come the supplications for various necessities with the response: “Lord, we ask You, hear our prayer” (Te rogamus audi nos). Finally, the conclusion — “Christ hear us”, etc.

The Saints in the Litany

The names that follow appear in the correct categories as provided in the 1972 Ordo Cantus Missae and the more complete version of Saints’ names in the Ordo Rituum Conclavis published by the Office for Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff in 2000:

Our Lady and Angels
Holy Mary, Mother of God.
Holy Virgin of virgins.
Ss. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.
All holy angels.

Patriarchs and Prophets
St. Abraham
St. Moses
St. Elijah
St. John the Baptist
St. Joseph
All holy patriarchs and prophets

Apostles and Disciples
Ss. Peter and Paul
St. Andrew
Ss. John and James
St. Thomas
Ss. Philip and James
St. Bartholomew
St. Matthew
Ss. Simon and Jude
St. Matthias
St. Luke
St. Mark
St. Barnabas
St. Mary Magdalen
All holy disciples of the Lord

St. Stephen
St. Ignatius [of Antioch]
St. Polycarp
St. Justin
St. Lawrence
St. Cyprian
St. Frumentius
St. Stanislaus
St. Boniface
St. Thomas [Becket]
Ss. John [Fisher] and Thomas [More]
St. Josaphat
St. Paul [Miki]
Ss. John [de Brebeuf] and Isaac [Jogues]
St. Peter [Chanel]
St. Charles [Lwanga]
Ss. Perpetua and Felicity
St. Agnes
St. Nina
St. Maria [Goretti]
All martyrs of Christ

Bishops and Doctors
Ss. Leo and Gregory
St. Ambrose
St. Jerome
St. Augustine
St. Athanasius
Ss. Basil and Gregory [Nazianzen]
St. John Chrysostom
St. Ephraem
St. Gregory [the Illuminator]
St. Martin
St. Patrick
Ss. Cyril and Methodius
St. Charles [Borromeo]
St. Francis [de Sales]
St. Pius [the Tenth]

Priests and Religious
St. Anthony [of Egypt]
St. Benedict
St. Bernard
St. Maurus
St. Francis
St. Dominic
St. Thomas [Aquinas]
St. Ignatius [Loyola]
St. Francis [Xavier]
St. Vincent [de Paul]
St. John Mary [Vianney]
St. John [Bosco]
St. Catherine [of Sienna]
St. Teresa of Jesus [Avila]
St. Rose [of Lima]


St. Louis [of France]
St. Monica
St. Elisabeth [of Hungary]
All holy men and women Saints of God


1 Some newly composed (Gregorian) chants are given for newly composed Latin texts. Settings for the Order of the Mass both for the ministers and the people are provided. The one Appendix of the Ordo contains the full text and chants for the Litany of Saints. The introduction to the text and chant allows for the insertion of saints such as Patrons, Titulars of churches, Founders, etc., in their proper place and for the addition of supplications and invocations for various local necessities may be added. Where extra designations of saints such as surname, or place names (e.g., of Hungary) are provided in brackets, these extra designations may be omitted if opportune when the Litany is sung in Latin.

[In elencho Sanctorum aliqua nomina suis locis inseri possunt (ex. gr. Patronorum, Titularis ecclesiae, Fundatorum, etc.). Item supplicationibus pro variis necessitatibus aliquae invocationes addi possunt, rerum et locorum adiunctis accommodatae. Cognomina et cognomenta (v.g. Hungariae) Sanctorum, inter parentheses posita, opportune omittuntur, quando litaniae lingua Latina canuntur]. Page 202, n.525.

2 The Ordo Rituum Conclavis, published in 2000 and available from the Vatican Bookstore, is useful for our purposes in that it provides the most up-to-date list of the saints (in the year 2000) included for the long processions used as part of the conclave ritual. This Ordo also gives the correct sequencing and categories for the Litany.


Father William M. Fitzgerald, O. Praem, is associate chaplain and instructor in theology at Christendom College, Front Royal, Virginia.



Father William Fitzgerald, O. Praem.