The Great Litany: A Great Error!

I am a big fan of the Great Litany, but I find one glaring — nearly unforgivable — error in the text as sung in non-established anglican churches.

In the 1544 version of the litany the presider intoned: “That it may please thee to keep Henry the VIII. thy servant and our King and Governor”; to which the faithful responded: “We beseech thee to hear us good Lord.”

The sentiment is clear. Insofar as the whole Body of the Church of England as well as the United Kingdom find themselves represented in their Head, the King, it was appropriate to beseech the “good Lord” to “keep” His “servant” their “King and Governor.”

So, who or what is the British monarch’s corresponding member for the Episcopal service? In our service, we substitute “state” — as in “keep the state” — for Her Majesty. I am not joking. Yes, the state! Really? Yes!

I am not sure who or what committee was responsible for this monstrosity, but, in no one’s imagination does a state in any way, shape, or form correspond to a monarch. The parallel is simply false. And, every time we sing the litany, the intonation of “the state” grates on my spirit as finger nails on a black board.

A “state” is parallel not to the person of the monarch, but to the institutional mechanism within which the monarch is but one cog.

So what is the parallel to the monarch in a republic? And there is your answer! It is not the mechanism, not the apparatus, not the state: it is the peopleres publica, or the republic, that most closely corresponds to the British monarch. So, please, please . . . pretty please; when we next sing the Great Litany, can we substitute Her Majesty, not with “the state,” but with the republic?

Thank you.

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