Originally published in The Living Church, 22 Mar. 2015.
Just after the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, the students and faculty at General Seminary in Manhattan gathered in the chapel. The seminary is less than a ten-minute drive north of Ground Zero, and for the students and faculty it was a moment of great confusion, anxiety, and fear. The Rev. Teresa Daniely, now an Episcopal priest, was in her first week of studies at General that day. “I did not know if I would live through that day; I assumed that I would not,” she wrote in 2010 for the Grace Prayer Network’s weblog (is.gd/U77vAr). “We got on our knees and prayed the Great Litany, a series of prayers that includes prayers of confession and prayers in preparation for death.
On that day, when the world seemed to be falling apart, the people of General Seminary found in the Litany the only fitting words for their deepest anxiety and hope. They were in good company. The Litany is a text forged out of tragedy. The eruptions of fourth-century volcanoes, the perils of the Black Death, and wars of the 16th century all left a mark on its historical development. It is a text that speaks to pastoral need, the Church’s gift for times of crisis. When you do not know how else to pray, there is always the Litany.