Litany of the Saints

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q:  Can you comment on the appropriateness or lack thereof for singing the Litany of the Saints at liturgy on  All Saints Day? If it is inappropriate, can you explain why? If it is appropriate, can you provide the relevant citations in the documents? And if appropriate, when would it best be sung? Thank you for your time in responding to my question.  It is so appreciated.


A:  We have sufficient flexibility for parts of the mass such as the entrance and the communion chants for singing the litany of the saints, but it is not one of the texts suggested for All Saints’ Day, nor is this recommended as one of the uses for the litany.

GIRM 48 includes among the options for the entrance chant “another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year.” That could certainly include the litany.
Perhaps a more melodic version (not the chant original) would make a better choice. But the liturgical books suggest other music for All Saints’ Day. As with every other solemnity, the official prayers of its mass are directed to God, not to the saints.
Q:  Thank you for your response. If I could follow up with more questions….

By “…a more melodic version (not the chant original)…”, would you include Becker’s Litany of the Saints?

When I consult various liturgical music suggestion sites, it is mentioned as an option.  Although there are many other sites where much discussion ensues about whether to use it on All Saints or not, and if so, when & how (as a procession coming from another place into the church prior to liturgy, in place of the Universal Prayer, as a procession AFTER the liturgy, completely separate from the liturgy, etc.)  Is doing a melodic version of the Litany not the same as chanting the Litany? Sorry to be so persistent, but want to make sure I have liturgical grounding underneath me.  I always feel I can trust your extensive knowledge.
A:  The reason I recommended a more melodic version (such as Becker) is that the chant version is associated with events such as the blessing of the font at the Easter Vigil and the ordination of deacons and priests. No such activity is happening at an All Saints mass, and the liturgical texts in the missal never propose it. I thought that perhaps the melodic version would disassociate the litany from those ceremonies that typically use chant. But you’re right, a litany is a litany.
However, the missal’s permissions for using a variety of sacred song are quite broad, and a litany of the saints would, in my opinion, fit within the permissions. It may not be recommended, but could hardly be forbidden.
For what it’s worth, here’s a paragraph I wrote for the 2005 Sourcebook for Sundays and Seasons (Liturgy Training Publications, now out of print) for the First Sunday of Lent:

The Circular Letter on Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts (Congregation for Divine Worship, 1988, #23) recommends a penitential procession to open the Mass for the First Sunday of Lent. The Ceremonial of Bishops (#261) suggests a procession for all the lenten Sundays wherever the bishop presides. The community gathers someplace outside the church and a procession forms. The presider may wear a violet cope. During the procession the Litany of the Saints is sung. Upon entering the church, all take their places, the presider reverences the altar and then goes to the chair. The opening prayer for Mass follows immediately. If the Kyrie was not incorporated into the litany, it may precede the opening prayer.

In my view, a parish could argue for a similar beginning of All Saints Day. However, All Saints Day is not Lent. There are no historical or theological grounds for starting with a litany of the saints. But it’s not forbidden, and not completely outside the framework of Catholic piety.