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Musical Musings: Prayers and Liturgical Texts

Hymnody of the Saints

by Gary D. Penkala
Sancta Maria... ora pro nobis.
Sancte Joannes... ora pro nobis.
Sancte Petre... ora pro nobis.
Sancte Paule... ora pro nobis.
Omnes sancti Apostoli at Evangelistæ... orate pro nobis.
The Litany of the Saints is the only one of the five officially approved litanies to have a liturgical use. It is prescribed to be sung at the Easter Vigil and for ordinations, consecrations, Forty Hours, and other processional rituals. Beginning with the familiar Kyrie eleison invocations, the litany continues with a Trinitarian formula followed by invocations directed to Mary, the archangels, the apostles and evangelists, martyrs, doctors, and other classes of saints. The complete form, much of which is not used in the Easter Vigil, concludes with prayers for deliverance, one or more collects, and an adaptation of the Agnus Dei.

Of the many saints mentioned in the litany, several have left us examples of their prayers and praises in hymns and poems they have written. From the eloquence of the saints:


Praise to the God of Israel!
For he has turned to his people, saved them and set them free,
And has raised up a deliverer of victorious power from the house of his servant David.
In the tender compassion of our God the morning sun from heaven will rise upon us,
to shine on those who live in darkness, under the cloud of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Framer of the earth and sky, Ruler of the day and night,
With a glad variety Tempering all, and making light;
Gleams upon our dark path flinging, Cutting short each night begun.
Hark! for chanticleer is singing, Hark! he chides the lingering sun.
And the morning star replies And lets loose the imprisoned day;
And the godless bandit flies From his haunt and from his prey.
Shrill it sounds; the storm relenting Soothes the weary seaman's ears;
Once it wrought a great repenting In that flood of Peter's tears.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me.
Francis of Assisi
Be praised, my Lord, with all your creation -- especially our brother the sun, who brings us day and light;
He is beautiful and radiant with splendor.
Most High, he is a symbol of you!
Be praised, my Lord, for our sister bodily Death, from whom no man can escape.
How sad those who die without you!
Happy are those who follow your holy will -- the second death shall be powerless to harm them.
Thomas Aquinas
Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he:
This faith each day deeper be my holding of,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.
Teresa of Avila
Love's whole possession I entreat,
Lord, make my soul Thine own abode,
And I will build a nest so sweet
It may not be too poor for God.

O soul in God hidden from sin,
What more desires for thee remain,
Save but to love, and love again,
And, all on flame with love within,
Love on, and turn to love again?

Quotes taken from The Harper Book of Christian Poetry, Anthony S. Mercatante, editor

See also Adoro te devote (arr. Penkala) [CNP Catalog # 2010]
See also Prayer of Saint Francis (Penkala) [CNP Catalog # 5090]

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