Non solum: The Litany of Saints at the Easter Vigil

Pray Tell reader Paul Fell sends in this note:

Every year around this time in Lent, I receive a list from the RCIA Director of the saints who have been selected by the “RCIA Class” as their confirmation names.  Based on established church guidelines, I incorporate these names into the Litany of Saints that is sung at the Easter Vigil.  This task is not only an enjoyable exercise each year (I learn a lot), but it gives me a chance to think about the communion of saints in a different and fascinating way.  If all these saints were standing around and talking to each other, what would they be sharing?  What would St. Florian (martyr and patron of firefighters) discuss with St. Anthony of Padua (a Doctor of the Church) or St. Vincent de Paul (a priest in the 1600s)?  What kinds of insights would St. Anastasia, St. Claire, and St. Therese regarding their virginity and their faith journey?  What questions would St. Gregory the Great or St. Thomas Aquinas like to ask St. Athanasius?

I’ve also been considering other ways that this litany can be incorporated once I prepare it. First, as part of our prayer support for the RCIA program, our choir could pray this litany before our rehearsals leading up to Easter Vigil. Second, when the litany is sung at any point later in the year, this selection of saints can be included to provide a reminder to pray for those who just entered the church at the Easter Vigil. Last but not least, this list can be the basis for short emails sent to each of the newly confirmed on their saint’s heavenly birthday, thereby reinforcing their connection to the Communion of Saints in heaven.

Do other parishes incorporate the saints selected by the RCIA class into their Easter Vigil litany?  Are these saints’ names used in some other fashion?

Your comments are welcome.

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19 comments

  1. I always do it – and at Confirmation, too. I tell the candidates to listen to it, as the communion of saints gathers around them in live, support and prayer.

  2. My last diocese did not support the idea of the newly confirmed taking on patron saint names. According to the diocesan office it was too much work to track those names. So at my parish we integrated the confirmands’ given names into the Litany of the Saints. Even this was sometimes problematic because their given baptismal names were not saint names either! So let’s just say we got creative each year, and let the folks know which names in the Litany were theirs!

    1. @Sean Keeler:
      “Even this was sometimes problematic because their given baptismal names were not saint names either! ”

      And that doesn’t work for a public litany (which the Litany of Saints is) – the only names to be included in it are of those who have been raised to the altars (no Origen, please*) by the Church (the Martryology offers a fuller list than the calendar) – it’s one of the marks of being raised to the altars – or are holy people from the Old Testament (many of whom are commemorated in the Martyrology). Obviously, there many versions of names of those who have been raised to the altars, but at some point it’s probably best to drop the notion if confirmands will not all have names that can be included in the public litany.

      *Background for them who are interested: http://forum.musicasacra.com/forum/uploads/FileUpload/a8/9172d9ec9bbccc1abd7daf8061da22.pdf

  3. A few things here. First, yes to the inclusion of newbies’ patrons. Second, the litany’s mention of a patron of a person with a “pagan” name does not equate with entering this name into any “record.” Frankly, I don’t know why one would need to. Third, I also include patrons of parishes in the deanery. Four, cathedral patron: should go without saying. Five, patrons of parish ethnic groups.

    A caution about this: the inclusion makes sense if the person has an awareness of their saintly mentor. If Terri has no idea of the distinction between Avila or Lisieux, for example, I would ask if that’s any more a Christian name than Tiffany. Are newcomers and long-time Catholics practiced in observing their patron day more, for example, than they celebrate 14 Feb or 17 March? If not, same question applies.

  4. If you think that is an issue, a few years ago I was conducting a consultation in parish around matters liturgical and I was informed by the RCIA coordinator that they put the names of those who were to be baptised during that Easter Vigil into the Litany of the Saints. Talk about being fast tracked on being “raised to the altars!”

  5. Reminds me of a friend whose pastor said she couldn’t baptize her Acihille. She pointed out that that was the baptismal name of Achilles Ratto! Lots of saints that don’t always come to mind.

  6. While I appreciate and encourage all contributors to PrayTell, reference to “RCIA Class” and “RCIA Program” in this post is problematic.

    In regard to Confirmation names for the elect, “The National Conference of Catholic Bishops establishes as the norm in the dioceses of the United States that there is to be no giving of a new name (RCIA Introduction, 4).

      1. @Chip Stalter:
        Chip,
        RCIA is a rite of the Church that engages the process of catechesis. Reference to a class implies we move people lockstep to initiation, whereas RCIA is based on a readiness model.
        Program and class is using language that we are very used to in pastoral life, i.e. religious education or catechetical programs, etc. However, RCIA presents a different model and use of language that we ought to use, particularly with catechesis and sacramental preparation for children baptized as infants.

      2. @Donna Eschenauer:

        I included “RCIA class” in quotes for this very reason–I was using this designation as a purely colloquial abbreviation for a larger thought. I understand your concern here and the intention was not to imply or impose any type of construct. My apologies for the imprecise language.

        Glad to see some stimulating discussion. I was curious how other parishes approached this.

    1. @John Kohanski:
      I would hope that adopting a patron isn’t a casual thing, in the sense of a “nice-sounding” name, or the name of a secular celebrity. Some religious orders confer a new name on members, and that doesn’t strike me as a repudiation of the unity of sacraments.

      In one parish I served where confirmation names were encouraged (but not required) the candidates were to research a saint and offer a justification in terms of the virtues exemplified. That makes sense to me.

      My daughter was undecided over Hildegard of Bingen for her leadership and artistic charisms, and Teresa of Avila and her outspokenness to God. She chose the former. I never asked, but I wondered about her choice of a green dress and her sponsor’s bright green scarf on Confirmation day.

      I feel less of a rigorist against Confirmation names these days. It’s not a practice I would feel inclined to end or to begin in a parish. But I would encourage Christians to seek friends in the Communion of Saints and to explore a bit with them to navigate the challenges of faith and life. If adolescence is a time of upheaval, maybe a patron is needed. Maybe the question is: only one? And a conversion experience that lands someone in the Catholic church, ditto.

      Paul, regarding your query, there are other acceptable times to sing the Litany of Saints. Your ideas also seem sound to me. They gave me the notion to sing the Litany as the opening prayer at choir practices this week and next. as for saint-feasts, that observance should be the minimum practice of a person with a patron. My friends who, for example, like to pray the St Michael Prayer after Mass, I ask them if they observe the feast of that archangel. Otherwise, I can imagine the reaction in heaven to people who mouth the words, but have little notion of the being with whom they are dealing.

  7. Honestly, folks, my intent (in fewer words) was to ask if other people use the Litany of Saints from Easter Vigil in additional ways beyond singing it at that Mass. I personally am not in charge of RCIA at our parish and I do not work with this material as regularly as some of you obviously do, so I’m certain my understanding and explanations are inadequate in comparison. Even so, I have never heard anyone at any level indicate that this aspect of our parish celebration is verboten. My conclusion from this is that our process is probably fine, it’s my explanation that is not. Therefore, I apologize for any misunderstandings.

  8. I’m retired from Music Ministry, so this is merely an abstract observation. Americans don’t seem to like to “chew their cabbage twice,” as attested by the scarcity of the practice of singing a response without verses during the distribution of communion. I’ve always wanted to go to France to experience Taize prayer in its original setting just to experience what it’s like. Personally, my private and silent prayer is usually a repeated mantra rather than a rosary, but that’s another matter.

    The Litany of Saints is intimately connected to the Communion of Saints, and I see good reasons for someone coming into the Church to choose an inspiration from our panoply of holy men and women as a moral guide for their Christian life. Without getting into the birth names vs. confirmation names, why couldn’t we encourage the inclusion of such men and women into the Litany? Making it more personal and vital seems like a good idea!! If I were still in active ministry, I would spend more energy on developing a parish practice of nurturing sung refrains during processions and restful periods that occur naturally in the Liturgy,

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