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What's in a Title

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By Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC (Sep 26, 2018)
This is the first article in a new series on the Litany of Loreto. Every month, I will explain this popular prayer line by line, providing you with spiritual and theological insights.

A litany consists of a long list of prayers in which we acknowledge the dignity of the person by invoking their main titles.

When someone gives you their name, they're permitting you to use it, and if you call upon them using their title, they're going to turn their attention to you.

If someone says to me, "Hey, Fr. Donald!" I'm going to want to turn to that person.
The Litany of Loreto, the most popular litany dedicated to the Blessed Mother, includes more than 50 titles of Our Lady. It derives its name from the Marian Shrine in Loreto, Italy, where pilgrims originally prayed it before Pope Sixtus V officially approved the text in 1587.

Since this popular prayer dates back to the 16th century, you're saying the same prayer recited by many of the holiest saints and popes.

In this litany, we're essentially saying to Our Lady, "You're worthy of our devotion because of who you are. In light of that, we're now asking for your intercession." Contemplating these titles helps us understand the Blessed Mother and her role in our salvation. So the Litany of Loreto covers the doctrine of Our Lady, but in a devotional way.

As with all prayer, we begin by invoking the Holy Trinity. It starts:

Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Christ hear us.
Christ graciously hear us.
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.


We begin praying to the Holy Trinity and invoking the Lord's mercy first because everything that we're about to pray in the body of this prayer leads us to God. Mary is not the end of our prayers. She's our spiritual mother, and we love her and ask her to pray for us, but she wants to lead us to the Holy Trinity. We need to acknowledge that in the beginning, lest we get the wrong understanding of her role. She wants it this way. We worship God. We venerate Mary. The primacy always has to be on God.

Then we have the first of many invocations and supplications of Mary:

Holy Mary, pray for us.

First, we acknowledge who she is: an extremely holy person, full of grace, very close to God, who cooperated with God. Because she is so holy, she can intercede for us to God in a powerful way, which is why we ask for her prayers after each invocation. She is a mediator who radiates light, exudes graces — she is available for us as a way to God. We need to acknowledge her holiness first because everything else in the litany flows from it. If she weren't holy, then what else would she be? She's not a guru — this woman knows God, remains close to God, and can help us grow closer to God, too.

View the second article in this series.

Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, is the spiritual director of the Thirteenth of the Month Club Newsletter.

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Michele - Sep 27, 2018

Thank you so much Father Donald for these detailed explanations of these Marian prayers!