Litany of the Saints

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: Please respond to the question a non-Catholic friend raised after attending the ordination of a permanent deacon in our parish. A Catholic participant has also raised similar questions. I’d prefer an expert like you to respond. Thanks!

Last evening in particular I really enjoyed the Litany of the Saints. Just now I’ve been listening to several versions on YouTube and there seem to be a number of versions and some differences in Saints. Why is a Litany of Saints sung at ordinations? What determines the choice of Saints?


A: The Litany of the Saints has been a common prayer among Christians since the Middle Ages. As interest in the saints and their intercession grew, so did the custom of calling upon them in a litany before special events. We still invoke the saints in a litany of supplication before adult baptisms and ordinations, as well as in other ceremonies of the church.

The list of saints was revised after the Second Vatican Council. Some who seemed less important to contemporary needs yielded their position to saints more recently added to the calendar. Room is always made for additional ones of local interest or patrons of those to be baptized or ordained.

Studying the list of names is an interesting exercise in itself because the church slightly varies the list depending on the celebration underway. For example, the litany in the Ordination of Deacons adds Vincent and Ephrem, who both served the church as deacons. It also separates Francis from Dominic, who are mentioned together in the Ordination of Priests, probably for the same reason: Francis was a deacon. The litany for the Ordination of Bishops separates Peter from Paul, who are together in the Ordination of Priests, probably because bishops are successors to the twelve apostles. Indeed, the names of all the apostles are added to the litany of Ordinary of Bishops.