There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.
St. Teresa of Ávila
Humility is a virtue we deeply admire, but it is also one of the most challenging virtues to practice genuinely. Sometimes our pride gets in the way; other times, stubbornness.
Table of Contents
- What is the Litany of Humility?
- When do we pray the Litany of Humility?
- Why do we pray the Litany of Humility?
- How to pray the Litany of Humility
- Related prayers
What is the Litany of Humility?
The Litany of Humility is a series of petitions in which we ask Jesus to deliver us from the various desires and fears that hold us back from being humble and replace them with renewed desires focused on Him and others rather than ourselves.
People often think humility is making yourself small, “less than,” and lowering your self-esteem. This isn’t the kind of humility that Christ, the disciples, Mary, and the Saints have shown us! Instead, we pray that we desire a humility that exudes love and tenderness, that knows we are all created equal in the image of God, and that understands our service in this earthly life is to love others beyond everything else.
Sometimes humility is being so comfortable with yourself, the person God created you to be, that you don’t spend time or energy worrying so much about what others think about you. Instead, you might spend that time and energy thinking about others, loving them, and supporting them. Humility sometimes manifests as being comfortable in compassion for the sake of others. As Mother Teresa said, “if you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”
What I believe is the hardest part about humility is the understanding that only God’s love will truly fulfill us, not how the world looks at us. This sentiment is the heart of the litany.
Living this out, however, is no easy feat. I can name several of my own flaws and fears that hold me back in this virtue. But, I feel called to work on and pray about humility, and I believe this desire holds for most of us. It’s likely why this prayer for humility was written and has become quite popular in the last few decades. And, as James M. Barrie said, “Life is a long lesson in humility.”
While there were likely earlier versions of the Litany of Humility, the text that we pray with today is attributed to Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val (1865-1930). Known for his life of piety, he was the Secretary of State to Pope Saint Pius X from 1903 to 1914.
We also know from the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis that Merry de Val’s Litany of Humility resonated with C.S. Lewis. To the friend who shared the litany with him, Lewis wrote,
“You did not know, did you, that all the temptations against which he pours forth these prayers I have long been exceeding conscious of?” – C.S. Lewis
Over the decades since it was written, the Litany of Humility continues to grow in popularity, likely due to its approachability and the universal truth it speaks to us as human beings.
When do we pray the Litany of Humility?
When you desire grace but don’t quite have the words for it
This litany puts into words many of the desires we sometimes struggle to name ourselves. Each time I read over or pray this litany, a different line seems to stick out to me. I believe that is because the Litany of Humility is a prayer we reach for when we desire grace from Jesus but maybe don’t know why or how to ask for it.
Daily, weekly, monthly
You could choose to start your day, week, or even the month by praying the litany. It’s a beautiful reminder that we fail often, but we can always ask for the grace to serve God and others with love each day.
Much like the ashes we receive on Ash Wednesday each Lent, this prayer helps us acknowledge where we fall short as human beings. We recognize our desire to be loved by everyone, to be popular, to be successful, and we name our fears regarding how others view us in this life. Because of this, the Litany of Humility is an excellent fit for prayer throughout Lent:
- The length is suitable for daily prayer.
- It guides us in acknowledging where we fell short.
- And it helps us ask for deliverance, grace, and forgiveness to love Jesus more fully, despite our human desires.
This being said, the Litany of Humility is a great way to continue working on understanding our human desires and asking for the grace to desire what Jesus does, regardless of the liturgical season.
Why do we pray the Litany of Humility?
Hold your eyes on God and leave the doing to Him. That is all the doing you have to worry about.
St. Jane Frances de Chantal
We respond to the first series of petitions in the litany with, “Deliver me, Jesus.” We ask Him to guide us out of places of sin, distrust, and fear and to lead us instead to a place of love and trust. The first petition is,
“From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.”
We ask Him to lead us not further down the paths we create for ourselves but to trust in His plan for our day, week, and life.
We pray this litany to be delivered from the desires, such as being honored, praised, and preferred to others, that hold us back and imprison us. We ask to be humbled so that we can experience true freedom with Jesus.
After asking for deliverance, we also ask for grace from Jesus, especially in areas where we place our self-esteem above the love of God and our neighbors. When we say read these petitions, we respond with,
“Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”
Read this response carefully; we are not simply asking for Jesus to plant the desire for love in our hearts, but for the grace to desire such. We acknowledge that we might not have those desires we seek yet, and that is okay.
We pray this litany to open our hearts to Jesus.
As Thomas Merton said, “Grace is not a strange, magic substance which is subtly filtered into our souls to act as a kind of spiritual penicillin. Grace is unity, oneness within ourselves, oneness with God.”
As we turn again and again to this Litany of Humility, may we continue to ask for grace from Jesus in our struggles and challenges in loving God, loving others, and seeking to live humbly.
How to pray the Litany of Humility
When practicing virtues and praying for them, it can be helpful to have a model to emulate. Likely, you can call to mind a kind and humble person you admire. It might be a friend, a family member, a teammate, a mentor, or a Saint. As we meditate on the words of this beautiful litany, think of that person as being here with you, praying alongside you.
Time needed: 5 minutes
- Make the Sign of the Cross.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
- Call on Jesus to hear your petitions.
O Jesus! Meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
- Ask Jesus to deliver you from the desire for people to see you in a particular way or light. After each petition, respond with, “Deliver me, Jesus.”
From the desire of being esteemed,
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
- Ask Jesus to deliver you from the fears that prevent you from living life with compassion for God, others, and yourself. After each petition, respond with “Deliver me, Jesus.”
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
- Ask Jesus to guide you toward loving your neighbors before yourself. Respond with, “Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”
That others may be loved more than I,
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should,
- Conclude with the Sign of the Cross.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We look forward to praying the Litany of Humility on Hallow with you. God bless!