Baptismal Litany of the Saints?

I have a question for the Episcopalians in the crowd… I have a sense that a Litany of the Saints is often used at baptisms in the Episcopal Church. Certainly we use it at our current parish, M’s parish uses it, and several of the churches we’ve been at before now use it. Is this just me and the kind of parishes that I look for or is this a genuine perception?

I should clarify, too: in the parishes I’m familiar with, the Litany is sung either as an addition to or after the Prayers for the Candidates on p. 305 as the baptismal party is going from the front of the church to the font. Checking the rubrics, it seems to fall under 10th note in the Additional directions that states: “If the movement to the font is a formal procession, a suitable psalm, such as Psalm 42, or a hymn or anthem may be sung” (BCP, 312).

What’s your experience? Does your parish use a baptismal Litany of the Saints? Do other parishes in your experience? How common is this?

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About Derek Olsen

I'm a layman within the Episcopal Church with a PhD in New Testament and an interest in most things medieval, monastic, and liturgical. My chief job is keeping up with my priestly wife and our two awesome kids. In addition to that, I earn a living, run the St Bede's Breviary, listen to loud goth/industrial music, and do some stuff for the church. I currently serve as Secretary to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music where I'm also co-chair of the Calendar committee and chair of the Digital Publications committee.
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23 Responses to Baptismal Litany of the Saints?

  1. Mary Sue says:

    Never heard the Litany of the Saints in a baptism. All of my Episcopalian experience is in California an Oregon middlin’ high churches. The anthem of choice at my last church was “There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place” from LEVAS II.

  2. Thomas Heard says:

    Derek,
    We use a Litany of the Saints in my parish in Mobile. It’s also used at St. Mary the Virgin and a number of other places. It serves as traveling music, getting us from the chancel steps for presentation/examination to the font for the real deal. I think it also serves to remind us all that the candidate is about to join into something that spans the centuries and is far bigger than any individual. Interestingly, I have one parishioner that would like me to update the list to include some more contemporary saints. So far, I have resisted, but I think the addition of Jonathan Daniels to the litany in Alabama is probably the first one I’d do.

  3. bls says:

    It’s Anglo-Catholic – and mostly formal Anglo-Catholic at that. Never seen it anyplace else.

  4. formerlyanxiousanglican says:

    I have never seen/heard it used in my 20 years of Prayer Book worship in a variety of parishes ranging from high to low in worship style and culture.

  5. Beth says:

    Agreeing with the crowd here — 35 years as an Episcopalian over 6 dioceses, have only known 2 parishes to do it, both of them self-consciously Anglo-Catholic (and one of those did it only at the Easter Vigil.) This doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s a good idea to do, just that statistically I believe it to be quite rare in TEC.

  6. bls says:

    Here’s my formula for how it works:

    Subdeacons Baptismal Litany of the Saints

  7. bls says:

    Whoops! I put angle brackets in there that didn’t “take”! In English it would be:

    Subdeacons if and only if Baptismal Litany of the Saints….

  8. Jonathan says:

    I’ve never seen it used either, so it may well only be used in explicitly Anglo-Catholic parishes like those you prefer to attend.

  9. MAG says:

    I’ve never (alas!) experienced it in any of the “Broad and Hazy” parishes that I have been a member of or have employed me. Then again, the catholic scene is pretty sparse in the southeast and near nonexistent in The Diocese Dot Net. Sounds like a very powerful and moving element of a Baptismal liturgy, though!!

  10. Precentor says:

    What is this mythical church whereof you speak in which litanies, processions to the font, and intercessions to the saints are used? In the parish in which I am employed, the Great Litany is used, somewhat apologetically and out of a sense of obligation, precisely once a year; the font is moved from its home in the north transept to the midst of the quire for baptisms; and the saints are so far out of mind that more than once when I have made a point to attend one of the regularly scheduled weekday Masses because it was a major Holy Day, I discovered that the feast in question was not even being observed. I can’t imagine that any other parish in town (this is certainly the most ‘formal’ or ‘traditional’) would be any different, and I suspect the same would pretty well hold true across the diocese.

    • Richard says:

      My English experience is that it’s only employed by advanced AC parishes – the sort that happily borrow the Pray, brethren and propers for Marian feasts.

  11. Catharine says:

    No Baptismal Litany of the Saints, no procession (the font moves, not the people) here in ‘snake-belly low’ Virginia.

  12. We only do it on All Saint’s Day. I tried to get the Rector to add it for the Baptisms at the Vigil to no avail

  13. David Sibley says:

    I’d echo the previous comments in saying that this is most definitely an exception, and not the rule. I’ve seen it done at -some- Anglo-Catholic parishes, but even there, I find it to be the exception, not the rule.

    It had previously been in use by one prior preast at the parish I now serve, but I have removed it. I can’t read the rubric cited above as being so expansive as to allow for formalized, responsive liturgical prayer, especially since the “psalm, hymn, or anthem” doesn’t seem to imply the use of a litany at any other point in the Book of Common Prayer. (The Great Litany being an exception, and having its own rubrics to govern its use in both Office & Eucharistic worship.)

  14. Poulson Reed says:

    Here at All Saints’, Phoenix we use it at the Easter Vigil. Very moving, I think.

  15. C. Wingate says:

    Our font is within arm’s reach of the altar rail, so the longest possible procession is about two steps. Hence, no litany.

  16. Gerry Hough says:

    We have a “portable” font that is moved to the front of the Chancel at the top of the steps. The Celebrant, Deacon, Godparents, etc. gather around the font. In the 17 years I’ve been a member at Trinity I can’t remember any litanies… Trinity was on the Protestant side of the church until the 10th rector was called in 2011, and there may be litanies in our future.
    Gerry Hough

  17. I have never experienced this practice (I’m lifelong Episcopalian). The ELCA’s new liturgy “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” has a Litany of Thanksgiving for the Saints (#237 in hymn part of the service book) fror use at the Easter Vigil (and other times like All Saints Day). If Episcopalians authorized a litany like this, I would support the Lutheran litany. I like commemorations of saints and mentioning our communion with specific saints in our liturgy. In the Ash Wednesday BCP liturgy I will not confess my sins to anyone but God (I leave out the bit about the whole communion of saints). I oppose the invocation of saints in Episcpopal Churches is for two reasons: (1) I can’t find anything in Scripture that encourages this practices; (2) Episcopal priests take solemn vows at ordination to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church (this includes using only the BCP and other authorized liturgies). I would –quietly– walk out of a service if a litany was used which invoked saints. I have the same negative opinion of “Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.” The BCP rubrics for Baptism state that a Psalm or hymn can be used during the procession to the font. Perhaps a joyful Psalm with a response (like Psalm 136, minus verses 10-22). Or what about a hymn rich in poetic theology like “O Blessed Spring” (text by.Susan Palo Cherwien). People have different theological ideas in the Episcopal Church. It is, I think, best to stick with the BCP materials authorized for use by General Convention. The so-called “Celtic Mass” is not authorized, but many use this liturgy. But there is no tolerance for people attached to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer — sort of a double standard. As in England and Canada, I think the use of a previous BCP should be permitted by General Convention. I fear the removal of Rite I in future BCP revisions. All of that said, it is absolutely none of my business what Episcopalians do in their own devotional lives (roasries, praying to saints, venerating images and relics, etc.). I don’t want to have these practices imposed on me in any Episcopal Church. .I cannot find any example in Scripture of “Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.” Rome didn’t codify this practice until 1973. And the practice dates from the 13th-14th century not the 1st century (the same with Corpus Christ processions). It is always better to partake of the Blessed Sacrament as opposed to venerating the Sacrament in a monstrance. .It seems very odd to be so solemm with consecreated Eucharistic bread (not even touching the monstrance with one’s hands) when, at other times, it is placed in human hands and eaten in other occasions. You won’t find me spending quiet time on front of a tabernacle. I prefer to seek out the presence of Jesus in other people. I imagine that Benediction substituted for more frequent reception of Holy Communion in the Roman Church. Frequent communion was encouraged by Pius X, Bishop of Rome in the early 1900s. I will not participate in a “May Crowning of a statue of Mary.” I do not believe in transubstantiation (another 12th century Roman innovation). I believe Jesus is present in this holy meal, but I would not dare to presume how Jesus is present. I like what St. Paul has to say in 1 Cor. 10:16-17 and 11: 23-26. It seems presumptuous to make other assertions. The cup of blessing and the bread are a sharing and participation in Christ’s Body and Blood (“communio” and koinonia can mean “at one with”) according to Paul. I mention these other practices, too because It is important to make all Episcopalians feel welcome (and not uncomfortable) in our parishes. We have many divisive issues already. So that’s why I think it is best to adhere to authorized liturgiess. There must be room for Anglo-Catholics, Broad Church folks, and people with more of an Evangelical bent (and a preference for fairly low-church liturgical practices). The legal name of our Church is “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America” (commonly known as the Episcopal Church). I am a Catholic Christian, but I am enthusiastically Protestant. The Reformation was essential and I don’t want to return to pre-Reformation thinking and practices. I grew up in a parish where the priest wore a cassock, surplice, and black stole for MP, EP, and HC. He faced the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer. None of this matterd to me one whit and it wouldn’t bother me now.. I have been in Virginia where a few priests still stand at the North Side of the Holy Table (this can still be found in England and especially in Northern Ireland). This practice reminds me of the angels over the Tabernacle when a priest is on the North side and another priest is on the South side. I trust in the wisdom of the hundreds of people who developed our current BCP and our Trial Liturgies. I don’t think any priest has the right to “do his/her own thing.” A priest who does such things is saying she/he knows better than the House of Bishops, succeessive General Conventions, Canon Law, and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. Work on the 1979 BCP began, I think, in the early 1950s. I have copies of Prayer Book Studies and Trial Liturgies dating from this time. I also remember the appearance of “The Green Book” and “The Zebra Book” in our pews. Does anyone else have the Church Hymnal series 1-6 or remember the two suipplements to the 1940 Hymnal? A great deal of work went into these texts. We must respect and honor these works. I am not angry about these things. But I do have strong opinions about these practices. I would not approve the hiring of a priest if she/he wanted tio do these things (in terms of being on a search committee). Ultimately, these practices are available in Roman Catholic parishes. If I wanted to participate in these activities I would head to a Roman parish. I know a number of Anglicans who want to imitate pre-Vatican II catholicism. I don’t get that. I still find value in the Reformation liturgies. I think ARCIC is a waste of time and money. Rome will never concede an inch on anything. I will never submit to any pope. I wil never accept papal infallibility or the requirement of bellief in recent, non-biblical doctrines as essential to salvation. It may be possible that Mary was buried in Ephesus. I believe she wentr to heaven when she died, but I don’t think she was singled out for a special, post mortem, body-and-soul trip after death. I do not embrace the dogman of the “Immaculate Conception.” I rather resent Bishop Benedict XVI calling non-Roman churches “ecclesiastical communities.” Anglican orders are valid! I do not want anything to do with Roman teaching, Roman ethics, and Roman liturgical practices. I am more pleased and excited about our ecumenical connections with Lutherans and Moravians (and the potential for closer ties with other Protestant churches). While traveling if I can’t find an Anglican parish, I look for a mainstream Protestant Church. In Sofia, Bulgaria we uised to have to Oborishta Street Anglican fellowship. We also attended services at the UK Embassy. In Varna there are no Anglican parishes, so I attend a Methodist Church. .

  18. Finn Froding says:

    At the baptisms in the Easter Vigil, I’ve occasionally persuaded our rector to use the Hymn “Ad cenam Agni providi” in the procession *from* the font to the altar. Although in English uses it’s mainly a vespers hymn during Eastertide, it seems originally to suit a processional of the newly baptized, wearing their white baptismal garments (stolis salutis candidi), from the font (or the baptistry) to the altar, having passed through the Red Sea (post transitum Maris Rubri). and looking forward to their first communion (ad cenam Agni providi). Yes, like many other respondents, we have minimal space to travel, but it still seems appropriately symbolic.

  19. Fr. Michael S. says:

    In Missouri and New York, I’ve never seen it done. Most commonly, I’ve [unfortunately] seen “Shall we gather at the river?” to process to the font.

    • The Book of Common Prayer (1979) authorizes suitable Psalms, hymns and anthems during a procession to the font (page 313) The “Litany of the Saints” is not mentioned or authorized. I love Aaron Copeland’s musical setting of “Shall We Gather at the River.” This 148-year-old hymn text by Robert Lowry makes a powerful reference to Revelations 22:1-2. I cannot find any reference to a “Litany of the Saints” or invocation of saints in the Bible. And this practice is not authorized in the Protestant Episcopal Church (and should not be imposed on baptismal candidates).. We do commemorate certain Holy Women and Holy Men on our Church Calendar who are well known. But we pray to imitate their example and we never seek their prayers in our collects. We don’t canonize saints and all of the baptized are considered saints of God. If someone does use the Litany of Saints, then how is the omission of invocations to a baptismal candidate’s departed family members (who were baptized) justified? Archbishop William Laud approved torture and physical mutilation (ears being cropped and facial branding) of his theological opponents – religious bigotry and terrorism at its worst. Laud’s commemoration nauseates me (it bothered me even more when the USA began waterboarding people and we found out that people were dying during these “interrogations” in America’s various “Star Chambers”). How could any good Christian authorize another Christian (or any other human being) having their forehead branded with the letters “SL” for “Seditious Libeller”? In defiance of Laud, his victims called the “SL” the “Stigmata Laudis.” I don’t understand why Laud is on our calendar and I certainly won’t be found asking for his prayers. This disgusting mistreatent was no more jsutifiable than Laud’s beheading. Among the baptized, there are no second-class citizens. There are also countless Holy Women and Holy Men. Why doesn’t the “Litany of the Saints” mention these people? It is best to have a liturgy that is congruent with Holy Scripture. Members of the Protestant Episcopal Church have a right to expect their clergy to obey the “Doctrine and Discipline” of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America in accordance with their solemn ordination vows.

    • Brother Jeremy, CSJW says:

      I remember the story of a Baptist Church where the Preacher, who was long winded, preached a sermon on Demon Alcohol. The Organist, as well of most of the Congregtion, nodded off. The Preacher said, “All alcohol should be poured into the River.” He repeated it several times. At the end of his sermon, he said let us sing our Sermon Response Hymn. The Hymn the Organist played…”Shall we gather at the River!”

  20. Sarah says:

    The Litany of Saints is used for the procession around the church to the font in the back during the Vigil only. It’s a challenge for the deacon to slow down enough to so that the procession and litany end together, or close to it. Many times, the women are sacrificed on the altar of “get on with it.” For all other baptisms (Epiphany 2, All Saints, and Pentecost), there is a hymn, anthem, or other traveling music.

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