Litany of Saints

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q. It has been the season for Litany of Saints, with priesthood and diaconate ordinations as well as professions of vows. In more than one case, the standard Litany is amplified with a saint here and a saint there, given, for example, the patron of the diocese, church, or order, not to mention the patron saints of the ordinandi or religious. Fine so far; however, when introducing these saints into the Litany, I maintain that they should be inserted according to some historical sequence, instead of say, all at the end, or any which way.
In recent years, it’s been like a pinball machine. We’re proceeding, singing along, and then a saint from the 20th century is followed by a saint from the 18th century, is followed by a saint from the 10th century and then the 19th century and on and on.
I raised this question with my own patristics and liturgy professor and he said the Litany of Saints proceeds historically, so when a saint is “inserted” it should be along the lines of his or her historical location. Is there anything in writing somewhere to back this up, or am I in the wrong and that it doesn’t really matter where they go?
I am grateful for your time. I was at Liturgical Press ‘headquarters’ in Collegeville, Minnesota, last week for a conference and saw several of your books displayed prominently, and it hit me that you might be the best one to call upon with my question.

A:  Thanks for your question. The rubric at the head of the Litany of Supplication in the ordination rites says that the names of other saints may be added at the proper place. However, there is no explanation about what the proper place is.  This seems to be the pattern:

  • Mary gets first place, followed by an archangel and angels in general. Biblical saints follow, beginning with John the Baptist and Joseph, then Peter and Paul, the ten other apostles from the gospels and Matthias who replaced Judas. Mary Magdalene appears next, probably because she is considered an apostle to the apostles, and then Stephen the protomartyr.
  • He is followed by five other martyrs in chronological order, men first and then women, as with the apostles.
  • Then come non-martyr male saints: The four great fathers of the church, and then saints associated with monasticism and religious life.
  • Francis Xavier the missionary and John Vianney the patron of diocesan priests come next.
  • Then the list backs up chronologically to pick up non-martyr women saints: Catherine and Teresa.
  • Saints should be added in their appropriate places. In my diocese, for example, John Francis Regis is a secondary patron, so we add him after Francis Xavier and before John Vianney.