We Catholics have many litanies we turn to in time of celebration or need. One of these is not perhaps well-known, but growing in popularity. I find it 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.
“That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.” This is just one of the striking invocations in this line-up of petitions asking God to sap the strength our pride, the root and crown of all our sins.
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 18th 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, the boy 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 the 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.
How John Paul II can help us really pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart
In 1903, the dean of the College of Cardinals died at almost the same time as Pope Leo XIII. In the quest to hurry and get someone to coordinate the papal election, Merry del Val was chosen. 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. 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, the first red hat given by Pius X. “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,” the pope told him. Shortly thereafter, he was made the pope’s secretary of state.
Praying this litany will give you peace about the past and future
Pope Pius X passed away on August 20, 1914. Cardinal Merry del Val continued to serve the Church until his own death in 1930.
Despite this service of the pope and the Vatican, Cardinal Merry del Val is best known for the Litany of Humility. Many (including C.S. Lewis) say he is the one who actually wrote it. It is known that he said it every day after he celebrated Mass.
Servant of God, Cardinal Merry del Val, please pray for us.
A number of Aleteia’s contributors have found the Litany of Humility inspiring. Consider these pieces for further reflection: