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Too much talking during Adoration; Purpose of a litany? Pt II of II

December 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Litanies, Prayer

Dear Father John, I went to Adoration this morning with my prayer group. There weren’t too many of us, but I always have a feeling that there is too much talking during our Adoration, and I just don’t get the “purpose” of a “litany” (which we pray together during Adoration). Each time I hear a litany, repeating the same sentence 2 or 3 times gives me feeling of being brain washed. I don’t see any love coming out of this kind of prayer. I guess I m missing something. Could you explain it a little to me?

In our last post on this topic we talked about “too much talking” during Adoration and the differences between communal and personal Adoration. In this post we will offer three reflections on the purpose of praying litanies.

Not the Only Path

First, remember that litanies are not the only form of prayer the Church offers us. We don’t have to force all our prayer time into litanies. In some religious traditions, litanies or formulaic vocal prayers are indeed the only kind of prayer. But in our Christian tradition, we also have the other forms of prayer. First of all, we have liturgy itself (the Mass, the other sacramental celebrations, the liturgy of the hours…). Secondly, we have a rich treasury of vocal prayers that we are encouraged to make our own – like the prayer of St Francis (“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…”) or Blessed John Newman’s famous prayer, “Lead, kindly Light…” Thirdly, we are constantly encouraged to learn to pray to God in our own words, through meditative reflection on the Bible or other spiritual books. This is called mental prayer. The litanies are only part of our tradition of prayer, a subset of vocal and liturgical prayer. So you should feel no pressure to make them your favorite form of prayer.

An Honorable Tradition

Second, keep in mind that litanies do have a long tradition and that they have indeed been a favorite form of prayer for many Catholics through the centuries, and even for popes. Pope John Paul II, for example, had a whole pile of his favorite litanies on his kneeler. He used them constantly.

Third, since litanies have such a strong spiritual pedigree, there must be some value in this form of prayer. Yet, they are so repetitive, and so formulaic – what’s the value in that? They offer at least two advantages.

The Value of Litanies

In the first place, repetition is one way of showing emphasis. When we repeat three times, “Lord Jesus, I believe in you,” for example, we are emphasizing and thereby renewing our decision to put our faith in Jesus Christ. It’s like lighting three candles on the side of the altar instead of just one: we are emphasizing the meaning of those words when we repeat them. It’s not a form of brainwashing, because we are not forcing ourselves to affirm things that are false, or that we don’t believe in. On the contrary!

In the second place, repetition and formulas help us channel the deeper emotions of our hearts, the emotions or desires or concerns that we often have great difficulty expressing in words. When a loved one is suffering, for example, we can pray for them in our own words, asking God to heal and strengthen them. But sometimes the words that we come up with just don’t seem to be powerful enough to express the love we have in the depth of our souls. In that situation, praying the litany of the saints for the intention of the suffering loved one can come to our aid. By invoking the saints and begging them to intercede for our loved one, we allow the words of the litany to serve as a vehicle for our inexpressible love and concern. The litanies become like the wheels of a train, carrying the weight of our hearts up to the Lord.

A Spoken Song

In this sense, litanies are like songs. In a song, the words are often repetitive, as when we sing the refrain over and over again, and the music is a pre-set formula. But the repetitive and formulaic nature of the song, instead of impeding us from expressing our prayer, actually enables us to pray more personally and passionately, giving expression to sentiments that reside in the hidden, hard-to-access depths of our souls.

If you still feel uncomfortable praying litanies, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If you continue to invest in the Christian forms of prayer that resonate with you most deeply, the Holy Spirit will certainly be able to continue guiding you closer to the fulfillment of his dream for your life.

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC, ThD


Feature Photography: Adoration Jesus Christ Blessed Sacrament Eucharist Monstrance, Estler, 2014.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Thank you father, i have never thought of using the Litanies when I am lost for words, I will try this.

  • Guest

    Bless you, Father. Like John I never knew I could use the Litanies as an altenative to Prayers especially when I have a special need to prayer for

  • LizEst

    Excellent post, Father John.

    May I add–
    We speak in “litanies,” like when we say to our children, our spouses, our parents, “I love you.” (And, don’t they love to hear that?!) We also speak in “litanies” when we hurt or have hurt someone: help me, help me, help me (when someone has been hurt or injured)…or, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry (when we are begging forgiveness). The examples are many!

    Litanies strengthen our resolve and help us put that expression not just into words but also into action. A well-known Church saying is “lex orandi, lex credendi,” meaning “how we pray is what we believe.” And, the fruit of what we believe is how we interact with others and with God.

    Litanies abound in our Catholic faith. For Example: there are litanies at Mass: in the Prayer of the Faithful, we pray–“Lord, hear our Prayer” (or whatever is the designated response that day); and, at the Agnus Dei (The Lamb of God), we pray “Have mercy on us” and “Grant us Peace.”

    We also see litanies in the Liturgy of the Hours when we pray the Psalms. Some psalms are quite full of the music of litanies. Take Psalm 136, which praises God for his marvelous deeds. After each line that illustrates a special thing God did for the Jewish people, it repeats over and over and over again “for his love endures for ever.” The rosary, for that matter, is an extended litany.

    And, Jesus himself illustrates a short litany when he says to Peter, “Do you love me?” and Peter responds “Lord, you know that I love you!”

    So, litanies are a very human thing. Prayer litanies are more formal ways of putting into prayer something that we do by our nature. But, not every way of prayer is for every person. So, as Father John said, “invest in the Christian forms of prayer that resonate with you most deeply.”

  • Cmittermeier

    two things cross my mind as I read this. First a thank you as your answer was helpful to another question. Secondly, don’t forget that though there are times when prayer is dry and we just don’t seem to get any connection to the words doesn’t mean it does not hold merit. Trudging through those times toughens us up, building spiritual muscles we didn’t know we had.

  • Elizabeth Mahlou

    Sometimes the repetition can bring about a change in mental state. When I was nervous about undertaking a brief but potentially dangerous assignment in Afghanistan a couple of months ago, a priest suggested that I spend some time in Adoration, repeating, “I trust you, Lord Jesus.” That repetition turned nervousness into deep trust. I am speaking honestly when I say that I did not have one moment of fear while in Afghanistan. I confidently knew my life was in God’s hands there — as it is anywhere I happen to be — and I knew at my very core of being that I could trust God completely.

  • Hello Fr. John, Can I ask your help, I am looking for the litany of Simplicity… it is much needed before Christmas

    • LizEst

      Dear Sr. Therese –

      I just saw your request. Until Fr. John can answer, I want to tell you that I have done a very thorough search for the Litany of Simplicity.

      I could not find it except in one place where one must purchase a whole set or package of prayers/resources to view it. It is listed here (but not written out) at this site:

      I just sent this site a question asking them what the “Litany of Simplicity” is that they have listed there. If and when I receive an answer from them, I will post it here.

    • LizEst

      Dear Sr. Therese Marie – I have an UPDATE for you.

      Tonight I heard back from the site I referenced in the message I wrote to you yesterday (below this one). They said “The Litany of Simplicity is a prayer based on thoughts of St. Ignatius Loyola and written by St Vincent Pallotti.”

      Based on that, I searched again for this litany but still have been unable to find it. So, I thought I would let you know. Perhaps you will have more success than I did. God bless you in that venture and in all things!

  • steve syvan

    i sing my litanies…and the roary…i will take a rock song and use the Hail Mary words…many ways to keep it real…and not pray like a mindless robot…

    • William Mayer

      Rock songs are too distracting for prayer. Keep them to concerts, please.

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