Need a challenge for Advent? How about memorizing the Litany of Loreto?
Since the 16th Century the faithful have prayed this exquisitely beautiful litany in honor of Our Lady that lays out many of the titles of Mary evident in Catholic doctrine and devotion. This Litany, named for its origin in Loreto, Italy, is a treasure trove of Marian imagery that can be memorized by anyone. Like anything of value, however, it requires some time and effort to do it justice, but it is a discipline that will pay the memorizer back in a lifetime of heartfelt devotion.
Divide and conquer
A litany is a chain of titles and images. In order to commit the Litany of Loreto to memory, we must consider our memorization a sort of journey where we “walk past” and familiarize ourselves with the titles, or, even better, we “walk through” them, immersed, as it were, in a fantastic panorama of Our Lady’s life and virtues. The practicing Catholic will know a good number of these titles already. The idea of “a walking pilgrimage” will help you to go through this exercise as you would on any pilgrimage – one step at a time.
The Litany is usually prayed at the conclusion of the Holy Rosary. When Pope John Paul II added the title of “Queen of Families” to the Litany of Loreto in 1995 he inadvertently (or maybe deliberately) created a perfect circle by bringing the number of titles of Our Lady to 54 – which corresponds exactly to the fifty “Hail Mary” beads plus the four “Our Father” beads of the Rosary.
Do not be discouraged by the number of titles, however. “Divide and conquer” is the principle to employ here. Getting the titles fixed in the mind is easier when you break the Litany down into its component parts and logic. Since the Litany proceeds in a quite orderly fashion, a little imagination is all it takes.
Litany Memorization tips
Four “God” titles stand at the head of the Litany (those will be easy), and then we walk through eight groups of Marian titles. My suggestion is that you write these groups down on their own index cards and practice each group individually by reading the titles out loud and in order. Repetition, repetition, repetition, coupled with the dynamics of seeing, speaking, and hearing, will win the game, as always.
I have included a mnemonic image at the end of each group whereby we can logically link one section with another as steps on our journey. The eight groups may seem disconnected at first glance, but by entering into the logic of each group and seeing how it leads into the next section, you should in time be able to memorize seamlessly the sequence of titles. Be patient and have confidence that the mind and heart attuned to Mary will infallibly etch these titles on the soul in good time. Now, let’s dive right into the list!
The God titles
Every Catholic devotion begins with God. This group eases us into the exercise nicely because it includes one title for each Divine Person and one for the Trinity as a whole, followed of course by the petition that God might “have mercy on us.” Make an extra card for the God group if you need to.
- God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
- God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
- God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
- Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.
Group 1: the “Holy” titles
We fittingly start Our Lady’s portion of the Litany with the scriptural testimony of her holiness (Luke 1:28) along with the doctrines of her Motherhood and Perpetual Virginity. All three begin with the word “Holy” and end by asking Our Lady to “pray for us,” the standard petition for saints.
- Holy Mary, pray for us.
- Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
- Holy Virgin of Virgins, pray for us.
Mnemonic link to the next sets of titles: The “Holy” group leads into the next two groups which reflect titles 6 and 7: first Mother, then Virgin.
Group 2: the “Mother” titles
This is the longest single group, but do not be daunted by it. There is a logic to it if you look closely. The list of eleven “Mother” titles begins and ends with Christ like bookends encompassing a whole library of Mary’s motherly virtues. Then there are pairings and alliterations that help us in memorization: Christ and His divine grace / pure-chaste / inviolate-undefiled / amiable-admirable / counsel-Creator-Redeemer.
- Mother of Christ, pray for us.
- Mother of divine grace, pray for us.
- Mother most pure, pray for us.
- Mother most chaste, pray for us. [1st large bead]
- Mother inviolate, pray for us.
- Mother undefiled, pray for us.
- Mother most amiable, pray for us.
- Mother most admirable, pray for us.
- Mother of good counsel, pray for us.
- Mother of our Creator, pray for us.
- Mother of our Redeemer, pray for us.
Spend some time getting the cadence and sounds fixed in the mind through verbal repetition.
The link to the next group: The progression from Mother to Virgin repeats the order in the “Holy” titles.
Group 3: the “Virgin” titles
Think: Virgin–Virtues. Prudence is the first of the Cardinal Virtues so it rightly comes first on the list of Mary’s virtues. Once we get the “prudent” title anchored, then the rest of her virtues follow in reverse alphabetical order: Venerable, Renowned, Powerful, Merciful, and Faithful. Easy!
- Virgin most prudent, pray for us.
- Virgin most venerable, pray for us.
- Virgin most renowned, pray for us.
- Virgin most powerful, pray for us. [2nd large bead]
- Virgin most merciful, pray for us.
- Virgin most faithful, pray for us.
The link to the next group: After Our Lady’s essential spiritual virtues and traits, we proceed to domestic images. The progression from spiritual to temporal is the link.
Group 4: the “domestic” titles
These images are all found in a home, which is the easiest way to think of these six titles: Mirror / Seat / Joy / and three types of vessels.
- Mirror of justice
- Seat of wisdom
- Cause of our joy
- Spiritual vessel
- Vessel of honor
- Singular vessel of devotion
The link to the next group: We go from one “set of things” to another “set of things” – the first set is temporal, the second, divine or mystical.
Group 5: the “mystical” titles
Here we must employ a little imagination. First, imagine the Blessed Virgin handing a Rose up to King David in a Tower. The Tower is made of Ivory. David then looks down from his tower to a House made of pure Gold. The Old Testament Ark of the Covenant is sitting in front of the house being carried into it through an exquisitely beautiful Gate (of Heaven) which opens into an elaborate foyer of a mansion where you can see a Star descending down from Heaven in the Morning to rest on the Ark. (Alright, that last one is a bit corny, but there is a good chance you will remember it precisely because it is corny.)
- Mystical Rose
- Tower of David
- Tower of Ivory [3rd large bead]
- House of Gold
- Ark of the Covenant
- Gate of Heaven
- Morning Star
The link to the next group: Imagine the Virgin Mary herself entering this mystical mansion behind the Ark and walking sequentially through four rooms. Each room contains different types of people who are in need of Our Lady’s help.
Group 6: the “people” titles
These four categories all designate afflicted peoples of one sort or another who turn to Our Lady in their need. Let us imagine Her walking majestically in all Her beauty through each of these rooms giving comfort to the sick / repentant sinners / afflicted (suffering) people / and those who are persecuted because they bear the name of Christian.
- Health of the sick, pray for us.
- Refuge of sinners, pray for us.
- Comfort of the afflicted, pray for us.
- Help of Christians, pray for us.
The link to the next group: Now think of Our Lady, in royal attire, exiting the mansion and entering a church through an ornate door into a vast cathedral escorted by angels (the first of our next group of titles). They proceed up a wide aisle past various groups of men and women who bear the symbols and raiment of their status in salvation history. Mary finally reaches what looks like a sanctuary where Jesus crowns Her Queen of the Universe.
Group 7: the “Queen” titles
It is time to think theologically and historically. These titles follow a very clear progression: Heaven (angels) / Old Testament (patriarchs, prophets) / New Testament (apostles) / and finally Church history (martyrs / confessors / virgins, and then, all saints). Mary is Queen of them all!
- Queen of angels, pray for us.
- Queen of patriarchs, pray for us.
- Queen of prophets, pray for us. [4th large bead]
- Queen of apostles, pray for us.
- Queen of martyrs, pray for us.
- Queen of confessors, pray for us.
- Queen of virgins, pray for us.
- Queen of all saints, pray for us.
The link to the next group: Mary’s Queenship over the entire universe leads us to her glorification. These are the specific Church teachings or doctrines reflecting Mary’s authority.
Group 8: the “glory” titles
Finally, these titles reflect the principle Marian doctrines: the Immaculate Conception (the beginning of her mortal life) and the Assumption (the end of her mortal life). And Our Lady’s Rosary is the Church’s main Marian devotion, which we pray in our families giving us immense peace.
- Queen conceived without Original Sin, pray for us.
- Queen assumed into Heaven, pray for us.
- Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us.
- Queen of families, pray for us.
- Queen of peace, pray for us.
Now that was not so bad was it?
Beginning with the God titles, your set of index cards should proceed in this order:
- The “Holy” titles (traditional designations of Our Lady’s sanctity)
- The “Mother” titles (qualities of her Motherhood)
- The “Virgin” titles (her spiritual virtues – in reverse alphabetical order)
- The “domestic” titles (list of things found in a happy home)
- The “mystical” titles (use your imagination to enter the mansion with her)
- The “people” titles (Our Lady ministers to categories of the poor and needy)
- The “Queen” titles (angels carry her past the saints up the cathedral aisle)
- The “glory” titles (the crown of the Church’s teachings and devotions)
A gentle reminder
Memorization is not an easy task for most of us, but it is incredibly satisfying to master something of value that you will carry around as part of you for the rest your life. The key is to write the titles down on index cards and practice them persistently in their individual groupings – in order – so that you conquer the mountain of titles in digestible bits. You will soon find that you are actually speaking to Our Lady and admiring her like never before (not to mention impressing all your friends by rattling off the Litany at the end of the Rosary).
The Litany of Loreto is a deep well of grace, a cornucopia of spiritual wealth, and a font of devotion that will make you love the Mother of God like never before. Give it a try; you will never regret the time you spend this Advent on pilgrimage with God’s most perfect creation.