Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer
As my long-time readers know, I have a soft spot for evangelical Christian women. I don’t mean the stereotype (rigid, homophobic, Trumpers), but the ones who genuinely love Jesus so, so much and say “just” a lot in their verbal, extemporaneous prayers. “Heavenly Father, we just want to thank you and just want to ask for your blessing and just…” Honk if you know what I’m talking about.
These women were taught to memorize their Bibles and sing from their guts with joy, lament, and worship for the Divine Creator of all things. As a gal who raised nominally Catholic, all of these expressions of faith were utterly foreign to the practice of faith I grew up in, which was comprised of memorized prayers, standing, sitting, kneeling, and (at best) mumbling lyrics to boring tunes whose meaning was not apparent, all in the hopes of avoiding the fires of hell. I existed within a fishbowl of faith in which one was just supposed to “figure out” what all these profound symbols meant without a lot of explanation. I couldn’t make out the meaning of the water around me; it was just there. As a child, I took it for granted and often didn’t like it because I didn’t understand it. At. All.
(Luckily?) In my generation, coming up through high school in the suburbs in the 1990s, evangelicals were in abundance. I find many of us Catholics were ignited to take our own faith journeys more seriously by our evangelical friends. (Listen to my podcast with Gene Yang as we connect on this observation).
Conversely, I find that many evangelicals become intrigued by liturgical prayer as they get older. That’s where my book review comes in today. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to the Reverend Fran Pratt.
She has recently published Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer. She and I meet in the middle, each coming from a different side of the Jesus-spectrum. We meet in between a deep, real, and personal relationship with Jesus and a reverence for the liturgical style of worship, where the structure of the worship means as much as the words and communal experience of God is as important as the personal.
In the introduction to her book, Fran explains that stumbling upon liturgical worship helped her enter back into meaningful prayer because the onus was not on her own brain needing to conjure the words and emotions to connect with God. Rather the structure of liturgical worship allowed someone else’s sacred words to “wash over her.” Liturgical ritual slowly brought her dusty faith life back to vibrancy.
Today, a major part of Fran’s ministry is composing lyrical litanies for use by congregations and small groups. Her words can wash over you and your community of faith, sparking provocative images, expressing deep emotions, and springboarding meaningful conversations with God and one another.
The book is split into five sections, including Litanies for Looking Inward, Looking Outward, Coping, Church Rituals, and Communal Worship. The book also contains some special litanies including Litany for Racism in the United States and Litany for Victims of Sexual Violence. There’s even a Litany for Heretics. Clearly, Fran is a down-to-earth, get real/go deep psalmist, which is always welcome in my world.
This book contains many practical litanies of blessing– one for children, for the newly ordained, and one for the homeless. It also contains litanies I find useful in private prayer, like Litany for Compassion, Litany for Stillness, and Litany for Boldness.
For all the Catholics out there, you might not call these prayers litanies, in the traditional sense. We Catholics generally consider litanies to be call-and-response-type prayers where the response remains the same throughout the prayer. For example, our familiar Prayers of the Faithful are an expression of this. The prayer leader’s words change (‘We pray for the Church…’ ‘We pray for the sick…’) while our response remains the same (‘Lord, hear our prayer). Or the familiar Litany of Saints where saints are named by the cantor and our response remains a simple, “Pray for Us.”
If your worship community would prefer a consistent response, I would invite you to consider these prayers as you would psalms. The Biblical psalms do not always make it plain what the refrain ought to be. Select a line of Fran’s psalm for the community to repeat while the cantor reads (or sings!) the stanzas of the psalm.
This book will be useful to all who are seeking some fresh, modern words to inspire prayers, both individually and in groups. If your community wants to bring contemporary concerns before God, this book is a fabulous place to start with Litanies for a Terrorized City, for Government, for Doing Hard Things. I know there are many communities who subscribe to her emerging litanies on Patreon. This book would be a helpful introduction to decide whether her way of writing is for you and your community.
Enjoy the Reverend Fran Pratt and the modern, down-to-earth style she brings to her writing. She’s a fantastic follow on Instagram, especially if (like me) you wonder if you’re the only one out there who wants to bring real-world stuff to the feet of the Creator. Let Fran help you bring it!