It is an ancient tradition in the Catholic Church that when plagues strike the people would recite litanies. A litany is a series of invocations, usually of saints or titles of a saint, that ask for intercessory prayers. A litany is a prayer of petition.

Some litanies are public and others for private use only. The Directory on Popular Piety (No. 235) says, “The Litanies of the Saints contain elements deriving from both the liturgical tradition and from popular piety. They are expressions of the Church’s confidence in the intercession of the Saints and an experience of the communion between the Church of the heavenly Jerusalem and the Church on her earthly pilgrim journey.” Likewise, the Code of Canon Law states in canon 1166 that, “sacramentals are sacred signs which in a sense imitate the sacraments. They signify certain effects, especially spiritual ones, and they achieve these effects through the intercession of the Church.”

Certain litanies were popular when a plague struck a region or nation. Often they invoked saints that were known to be powerful intercessors for the sick or in case of natural disasters. Often they were prayed during processions in an antiphonal manner. One of the more popular litanies during the time of plague was the Litany of the Saints. In addition, particular saints were often called upon singularly or in groups, such as the 14 Holy Helpers.

In this time of pandemic, especially since public worship is difficult or impossible, we can still invoke saints and pray litanies. Popular devotions can help sustain our faith. We believe that we are part of the communion of saints and that their prayers are efficacious. The saints want to help us.

Here is a litany of some of the saints that were often invoked during times of sickness and plague. This litany is for private use only. Feel free to add your own special patrons.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Christ, hear us. Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father in 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.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
Holy Mary, Help of the Sick, pray for us.
Holy Mary, Health of the Roman People, pray for us.
Holy Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for us.
Holy Mary, Consoler of the Afflicted, pray for us.

St. Joseph, Spouse of the Virgin Mary, pray for us.
St. Joseph, Hope of the Sick, pray for us.
St. Joseph, Patron of the Dying, pray for us.
St. Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us.

St. Michael, Light and Hope of souls near death, pray for us.
St. Michael, our most sure aid, pray for us.
St. Michael, receiver of the souls of the elect after death, pray for us.
St. Raphael, God’s remedy, pray for us.
St. Gabriel, God’s messenger, pray for us.
Guardian Angel, my protector, pray for us.
All you holy angels, pray for us.

St. George, valiant martyr of Christ, pray for us.
St. Blaise, zealous bishop and benefactor of the poor, pray for us.
St. Erasmus, mighty protector of the oppressed, pray for us.
St. Pantaleon, miraculous exemplar of charity, pray for us.
St. Vitus, special protector of chastity, pray for us.
St. Christopher, mighty intercessor in dangers, pray for us.
St. Dionysius, shining mirror of faith and confidence, pray for us.
St. Cyriacus, terror of hell, pray for us.
St. Acacius, helpful advocate in death, pray for us.
St. Eustace, exemplar of patience in adversity, pray for us.
St. Giles, despiser of the world, pray for us.
St. Margaret of Antioch, valiant champion of the Faith, pray for us.
St. Catherine of Alexandria, victorious defender of the Faith and of purity, pray for us.
St. Barbara, mighty patroness of the dying, pray for us.
All you Fourteen Holy Helpers, pray for us.

St. Luke, patron of physicians, pray for us.
St. Agatha, patroness of nurses, pray for us.
St. Martin De Porres, patron of public health, pray for us.
St. Roch, who did expose your life to heal the sick, pray for us.
St. Sebastian, comforter of the dying, pray for us.
St. Corona, patroness of plague victims, pray for us.
St. Benedict, protector of those who cry to you, pray for us.
St. Charles Borromeo, whose selflessness during a great plague won the hearts even of your foes, pray for us.
St. Gregory the Great, whose prayers ended a plague, pray for us.
St. Aloysius Gonzaga, who died as a result of caring for the sick, pray for us.
St. Rosalie, by whose intercession a plague was ended, pray for us.
St. Casimir, known for generosity to the sick, pray for us.
Sts. Cosmas and Damian, holy brother-physicians, pray for us.
St. Camillus de Lellis, patron of the sick and health care workers, pray for us.
St. John of God, patron of hospitals, pray for us.
St. Frances of Rome, dedicated to the sick and the poor, pray for us.
St. Quirinus of Neuss, patron of those affected by plague, pray for us.
St. Anthony the Great, patron of those infected by disease, pray for us.
St. Edwin the Martyr, patron of pandemics, pray for us.
St. Damien of Molokai, compassionate to the sick and outcasts, pray for us.
St. Godeberta of Noyon, who miraculously brought an end to a plague, pray for us.
St. Henry Morse, who cared for plague victims, pray for us.
St. Marianne Cope, who saw in the sick the face of Jesus, pray for us.
Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos, holy priest who died caring for the sick, pray for us.
Blessed Engelmar Unzeitig, chaplain amid an outbreak at Dachau, pray for us.
All holy saints of God, pray for us.

From every evil, Lord save your people.
From every sin, Lord save your people.
From your anger, Lord save your people.
From sudden and unforeseen death, Lord save your people.
From the snares of the devil, Lord save your people.
From anger, hatred, and all ill-will, Lord save your people.
From the spirit of uncleanness, Lord save your people.
From lightening and tempest, Lord save your people.
From the scourge of earthquake, Lord save your people.
From plague, famine, and war, Lord save your people.
From everlasting death, Lord save your people.

Be merciful to us sinners, Lord, hear our prayer.
That you will spare us, Lord, hear our prayer.
That you will pardon us, Lord, hear our prayer.
That it may please you to bring us to true repentance, Lord, hear our prayer.
To deliver our souls from eternal damnation, and the souls of our brethren, kinsmen, and benefactors, Lord, hear our prayer.
To give and preserve the fruits of the earth, Lord, hear our prayer.
To grant eternal rest to all the faithful departed, Lord, hear our prayer.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world: spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world: graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.

Let us pray.

Almighty and eternal God, our refuge in every danger, to whom we turn in our distress, in faith, we pray, look with compassion on the afflicted, grant eternal rest to the dead, comfort to mourners, healing to the sick, peace to the dying, strength to healthcare workers, wisdom to our leaders and the courage to reach out to all in love, so that together we may give glory to your Holy Name. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Father James Goodwin writes from North Dakota.