Cloud of Witnesses
by Roger Petrich,
Director of Music Ministries
The big sports events of our modern world are viewed by audiences numbered in the millions. But it is not just professional athletes, who are being watched. You and I are also being observed. As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews points out:
“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…”
Litanies frame our journey through Lent. Do you ever wonder who these people are? It is not a random list, but hierarchical. Top of the list is “Mary, Mother of God”. Then follows the Archangel Michael and the rest of the Heavenly Host. From here on it is a review of “salvation history” – John the Baptist, and Joseph the spouse of Mary. We recognize some of the first apostles: Peter, Paul, Andrew, John. Then the first person to see the Risen Christ that early Easter morning, Mary Magdalene; Deacon Stephen the first martyr, followed by more martyrs: Ignatius, a Bishop; Lawrence, a Deacon. To the early church the stories of Perpetua and Felicity, and their love for each other, and their death together in the Roman Colosseum were well known, as was the death of Agnes.
Some of the great theologians come next: Pope Gregory the Great, Augustine of Hippo in Africa is joined with two Greek writers: Athanasius, and Basil. The Roman [and Christian] soldier Martin was noted for his charity. The founders of the Benedictines, the Franciscans and the Dominicans are invoked, as is the great Jesuit missionary to the Orient, Francis Xavier. John Vianney the patron of all parish priests, and two powerful women round out the present list: Catherine of Sienna and Teresa of Avila, both examples of intense prayer and mystic visions.
In 1988, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship issued a letter concerning celebration of Lent, the Triduum and Easter. It suggests:
“The first Sunday of Lent marks the beginning of the annual Lenten observance. In the Mass of this Sunday there should be some distinctive elements which underline this important moment; e.g. the entrance procession with litanies of the saints.”
Whether short form or long, traditional chant or more modern music, the Litany reminds us that we do not run alone, but we have many who have preceded us, watching and cheering us on!
All Holy Men and Women, pray for us!