A Litany Revisited

A once popular form of prayer honouring Our Lady, Mary, Mother of Jesus, is rarely heard today, Fr James Lyons writes.

Loreto, a town in the Italian province of Ancona.We

WelCom April 2023

A once popular form of prayer honouring Our Lady, Mary, Mother of Jesus, is rarely heard today, Fr James Lyons writes.

The Litany of Loreto dates from 1531. It was officially approved by Pope Sixtus V in 1587, its contents almost unchanged in the nearly five centuries since. But, in recent decades the Litany has dropped out of use.

Loreto is a town in the Italian province of Ancona. Its Basilica, the Shrine of the Holy House of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is still a renowned pilgrimage destination. The Litany was first prayed there.

Traditionally, a litany is a series of invocations or intercessions. The more ancient one is the Litany of the Saints, prayed at the Easter Vigil and in the Ordination rite. An abbreviated version is used in the infant baptism liturgy.

Litany of Loreto actually contains six litanies, pointing to: (1) Mary’s holiness, (2) Mary as Mother, (3) Mary the Virgin, (4) Symbols of Mary, (5) Mary the Helper, (6) Mary as Queen. 

This edition of WelCom opens a series on this Litany. Fr James Lyons explores the intercessions relating to the ‘Symbols of Mary’ and ‘Mary the Helper’. There are 18 in total:

Mirror of Justice, Seat of Wisdom, Cause of our Joy, Spiritual Vessel, Vessel of Honour, Singular Vessel of Devotion, Mystical Rose, Tower of David, Tower of Ivory, House of Gold, Ark of the Covenant, Gate of Heaven, Morning Star, Health of the Sick, Refuge of Sinners, Solace of Migrants, Comforter of the Afflicted, Help of Christians.

The series will examine these titles, placing each one in a context relevant to the experiences and aspirations of today’s Christians. The Litany of Loreto need not be lost. 

Mirror of Justice

This special series begins with Mirror of Justice.

James Lyons, Priest of the archdiocese

Mirror of Justice
Mirror, mirror on the wall
Who’s the fairest of us all?

The fairy tale rhyme demands much from the piece of reflective glass. Nothing less than a choice in favour of the user.

The magic mirror in JK Rowling’s creation, Harry Potter, has a similar role, showing the viewer whatever that person most desperately wants to see.

Mirrors in Fun Fairs deliberately distort your appearance, making you look misshapen, distorted, grotesque. And all for entertainment.

When I look into a mirror I expect to see no one but myself. The mirror may help some people to improve their appearance: to straighten a tie, to reapply makeup, to detect and eliminate a smudge, to rearrange a hairstyle – but it makes no judgement, gives no assessment. A cryptic crossword clue gave me the best description of a mirror: Its use can be seen on reflection.

Mary, Mother of Jesus, as Mirror of Justice, reflects in her own life all that is fair and right and just.  She is the one who ‘proclaims’, ‘magnifies’, makes ever so clear the presence of ‘the Lord’ [Luke 1:46-55]. Her Magnificat is a powerful statement, both a song of praise and a celebration of belief in God’s mercy and compassion, committed by promises to lift up the lowly, to set things right.

God comes to us through Mary, in Jesus her Son, and calls us through her own lived experience with Jesus.

All concerned with justice, who ‘hunger and thirst’ for what is right [Matthew 5:6], need only look at Mary to measure their progress, to see what might still need straightening or removing in their own lives for justice to prevail.

As a Mirror of Justice, Mary is the image of powerlessness for all people who struggle for acceptance or identity. She reflects the sorrow in the hearts of those deprived of home or family, and the anguish of those who cannot ease the agony of others. She knows the suffering of people who have no one to speak for them, and the hurt that ridicule and betrayal bring. The Mirror of Justice stands at the foot of the cross and reflects the forgiveness that alone opens up the path to true justice.

Justice understands weakness but never takes sides. Justice is close to the broken hearted and works to heal.

Justice sees with both mind and heart and is thereby blind to much of human reasoning which ignores the heart. Justice is fair beyond words, upholds dignity, reconciles differences, perceives the truth.

Justice is a beach in summer and an open fire in winter.

William Dyce (1806-64) – The Madonna and Child (Wikipedia)

Mirror of Justice

Its use can be seen on reflection
reads the cryptic clue.
And the blindness of justice
cares little for image
so long as it’s seen to be done.
Mary, Mirror of Justice,
let me stand before your gaze.
Reflect your energy for justice
into my life.
Help me learn from your presence
in suffering and doubt and unfair treatment.
Help all who follow Jesus
to follow the way of justice and peace.
Mirror of Justice, prayer for us.
– James Lyons