By Larry Peterson
The definition of a litany: a prayer consisting of a series of invocations and supplications by the leader with alternate responses by the congregation.
We Catholics have many litanies we can turn to in time of need. However, there is one Litany we do not hear used much. I believe it is among the most beautiful in the list of Litanies we have available to us. It is the Litany of Humility. And most folks attribute it to the pen of the most humble of all cardinals, Merry del Val
From the Litany of Humility: “That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”
Rafael Merry del Val y Zuelta was the second of four sons born to Carlos Merry del Valas and Sofia Josefa de Zulueta. Rafael was born in the Spanish embassy in London, England, in 1865. The unusual surname,“Merry” came from Irish merchants who had settled in Seville, Spain in the eighteenth century. His family could trace their lineage back to the 12th century.
Living and growing up in London allowed for young Rafael to receive the best academic training offered by the British schools. However, despite his aristocratic background, young Rafael always displayed a genuine and personal humility tempered by integrity and modesty that he carried throughout his life.
From an early age, Rafael felt the call to the priesthood. He attended a Jesuit preparatory school and from there went on to Upshaw College. He already had earned a Doctorate in Philosophy at Pontifical Gregorian University when he was ordained to the priesthood on December 30, 1888. He followed by earning a Doctorate in Theology and then a Licentiate in Canon law. He was already visible on Pope Leo XIII’s radar.
He was entrusted by Pope Leo with studying the question of the validity of Anglican orders. This was a huge issue at the time, and Merry del Val was the main architect of the Church’s response to this question. The result of his work was the Papal bull, Apostolicae Curae.
The lives of Pope Pius X and Cardinal Merry del Val would never have crossed paths if God did not have a plan. The pope was born poor and had spent his entire life among the poor. Cardinal del Val came from one of the most prominent families in Europe. He had been educated in the best schools and was at home at any embassy in Europe.
During the Papal Conclave of 1903, the Austrians stopped the election of Cardinal Tindaro. Ironically, the secretary of the College of Cardinals had died almost the same time as Pope Leo
XIII. In their quest to hurry and get someone to coordinate the papal election, the pontifical academy chose Merry del Val. He had only been a bishop for three years. After four days and on the seventh ballot, a relatively unknown cardinal from Venice was elected. Guiseppe Cardinal Sarto was elected to the papacy. He took the name, Pope Pius X. He and Bishop Merry del Val, two total opposites, became fast friends.
After two months Bishop del Val was elevated to cardinal and, next to the Pope, the most powerful position in the Vatican; that of Secretary of State. He was the first Cardinal elevated by Pope Pius X and the Holy Father, upon bestowing the cardinal’s hat upon him said, “The good odor of Christ, lord cardinal, that you have spread in every place, even in your temporary dwelling, and the many works of charity to which you have dedicated yourself constantly in your priestly ministry, especially in this our city of Rome, have won for you, with admiration, universal esteem.“
Pope Pius X passed away on August 20, 1914. Cardinal Merry del Val passed away in 1930. But perhaps more than anything else, Cardinal Merry del Val is known for the Litany of Humility. Many insist he is the one who actually wrote it. It is known that he said it every day after he celebrated Mass. C.S. Lewis gave Cardinal del Val credit for composing it. So did Father Charles Belmont of Opus Dei. There wasa similar version found that was supposedly published in 1867 but the author of that seems to vanish into obscurity.
You might open the link and print out a copy. It is a beautiful Litany to have available.
Servant of God, Cardinal Merry del Val; please pray for us.