The litany is a Christian prayer form consisting of a series of petitions sung or said by a deacon, priest, or cantor, to which the congregation repeats a fixed response. The form originated at Antioch in the 4th century and spread from there throughout the Eastern churches and then to the West.
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Litany, in Christian liturgy, form of prayer consisting of a series of invocations and supplications pronounced by the clergy, alternating with responses by the choir or congregation. The litany may form part of the liturgy of certain feasts or may be regarded as a separate service, used especially in religious processions.
In the Roman Catholic church the principal litany is the Litany of the Saints. Originating in medieval times, it consists of the Kyrie Eleison, that is, the invocation of Christ and the Trinity; a series of supplications for the intercession of specific saints; a series of supplications for deliverance from particular evils; and a series of prayers for the preservation of the church. The Litany of the Saints forms part of the liturgy for the Feast of Saint Mark on April 25, called the Greater Litany. It also forms part of the ritual on such occasions as the ordination of priests and the consecration of churches.
The litany is in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England and in the service books of other Anglican churches and some Protestant churches. It is similar to the Roman Catholic form, but contains no invocations for the intercession of the saints. The litany is prescribed for Anglican morning and evening prayer services.
(Latin litania, letania, from Greek lite, prayer or supplication)
A litany is a well-known and much appreciated form of responsive petition, used in public liturgical services, and in private devotions, for common necessities of the Church, or in calamities - to implore God's aid or to appease His just wrath. This form of prayer finds its model in Psalm cxxxv: "Praise the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. Praise ye the God of gods . . . the Lord of lords . . . Who alone doth great wonders . . . Who made the heavens", etc., with the concluding words in each verse, "for his mercy endureth for ever." Similar is the canticle of praise by the youths in the fiery furnace (Dan., iii, 57-87), with the response, "praise and exalt him above all for ever." In the Mass of the Oriental Church we find several litanies in use even at the present day. Towards the end of the Mass of the catechumens the deacon asks all to pray; he formulates the petitions, and all answer "Kyrie Eleison". When the catechumens have departed, the deacon asks the prayers: for the peace and welfare of the world, for the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, for the bishops and priests, for the sick, for those who have gone astray, etc., to each of which petitions the faithful answer "Kyrie Eleison", or "Grant us, 0 Lord", or "We beseech Thee." The litany is concluded by the words, "Save us, restore us again, 0 Lord, by Thy mercy." The last petitions in our Litany of the Saints, with the responses "Deliver us, 0 Lord" and "We beseech Thee hear us", show a great resemblance to the Mass Litany of the Greek Church. In the Ambrosian or Milanese Rite two litanies are recited on the Sundays of Lent instead of the "Gloria in excelsis". In the Stowe Missal a litany is inserted between the Epistle and Gospel (Duchesne, "Christian Worship", London, 1904, 199). The Roman Missal has retained the prayers for all classes of people in the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday, a full litany on Holy Saturday, and the triple repetition of "Kyrie Eleison", "Christe Eleison", "Kyrie Eleison", in every Mass. The frequent repetition of the "Kyrie" was probably the original form of the Litany, and was in use in Asia and in Rome at a very early date. The Council of Vaison in 529 passed the decree: "Let that beautiful custom of all the provinces of the East and of Italy be kept up, viz., that of singing with great effect and compunction the 'Kyrie Eleison' at Mass, Matins, and Vespers, because so sweet and pleasing a chant, even though continued day and night without interruption, could never produce disgust or weariness". The number of repetitions depended upon the celebrant. This litany is prescribed in the Roman Breviary at the "Preces Feriales" and in the Monastic Breviary for every "Hora" (Rule of St. Benedict, ix, 17). The continuous repetition of the "Kyrie" is used today at the consecration of a church, while the relics to be placed in the altar are carried in procession around the church. Because the "Kyrie" and other petitions were said once or oftener, litanies were called planœ, ternœ, quinœ, septenœ.
When peace was granted to the Church after three centuries of bloody persecution, public devotions became common and processions were frequently held, with preference for days which the heathens had held sacred. These processions were called litanies, and in them pictures and other religious emblems were carried. In Rome, pope and people would go in procession each day, especially in Lent, to a different church, to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries. Thus originated the Roman "Stations", and what was called the "Litania Major", or "Romana". It was held on 25 April, on which day the heathens had celebrated the festival of Robigalia, the principal feature of which was a procession. The Christian litany which replaced it set out from the church of S. Lorenzo in Lucina, held a station at S. Valentino Outside the Walls, and then at the Milvian Bridge. From thence, instead of proceeding on the Claudian Way, as the heathens had done, it turned to the left towards the Vatican, stopped at a cross, of which the site is not given, and again in the paradise or atrium of St. Peter's, and finally in the basilica itself, where the station was held (Duchesne, 288). In 590, when a pestilence caused by an overflow of the Tiber was ravaging Rome, Gregory the Great commanded a litany which is called "Septiformis"; on the preceding day he exhorted the people to fervent prayer, and arranged the order to be observed in the procession, viz, that the clergy from S. Giovanni Battista, the men from S. Marcello, the monks from SS. Giovanni e Paolo, the unmarried women from SS. Cosma e Damiano, the married women from San Stefano, the widows from S. Vitale, the poor and the children from S. Cæcilia, were all to meet at S. Maria Maggiore. The "Litania Minor", or "Gallicana", on the Rogation Days before Ascension, was introduced (477) by St. Mamertus, Bishop of Vienne, on account of the earthquakes and other calamities then prevalent. It was prescribed for the whole of Frankish Gaul, in 511, by the Council of Orléans (can. xxvii). For Rome it was ordered by Leo III, in 799. In the Ambrosian Rite this litany was celebrated on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday after Ascension. In Spain we find a similar litany from Thursday to Saturday after Whitsuntide, another from the first to third of November, ordered by the Council of Gerunda in 517, and still another for December, commanded by the synod of Toledo in 638. In England the Litany of Rogation Days (Gang-Days) was known in the earliest periods. In Germany it was ordered by a Synod of Mainz in 813. Owing to the fact that the Mass Litany became popular through its use in processions, numberless varieties were soon made, especially in the Middle Ages. Litanies appeared in honour of God the Father, of God the Son, of God the Holy Ghost, of the Precious Blood, of the Blessed Virgin, of the Immaculate Conception, of each of the saints honoured in different countries, for the souls in Purgatory, etc. In 1601 Baronius wrote that about eighty forms were in circulation. To prevent abuse, Pope Clement VIII, by decree of the Inquisition of 6 Sept., 1601, forbade the publication of any litany, except that of the saints as found in the liturgical books and that of Loreto. To-day the litanies approved for public recitation are: of All Saints, of Loreto, of the Holy Name, of the Sacred Heart, and of St. Joseph.
Publication information Written by Francis Mershman. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
BISHOP in Journal of Theological Studies (1906), 133; Römische Quartalschrift (1904), 13; PUNKES in Kirchenlex., s. v. Litanei; THILL in Pastor Bonus (1891), 217 sqq.; KELLNER, Heortologie (Freiburg, 1906), 143 sqq.; KRIEG in KRAUS, Real-Encyk., s. v. Litanei; BINTERIM, Denkwürdigkeiten, IV, I, 572 sqq.; Revue Bénédictine, III, 111; V, 152; SERARIUS, Litaneutici seu de litaniis libelli duo (Cologne, 1609).
The model of all other litanies, of great antiquity.
It was used in the "Litania Septiformis" of St. Gregory the Great, and in the procession of St. Mamertus. In the Eastern Church, litanies with the invocation of saints were employed in the days of St. Basil (d. 379) and of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (d. about 270) (Basil, Ep. lxiii; Socrates, VI, viii, Sozomen, VIII, vii). It is not known when or by whom the litany was composed, but the order in which the Apostles are given, corresponding with that of the Canon of the Mass, proves its antiquity (Walafr. Strabo, "De Reb. Eccl.", xxiii).
STRUCTURE AND CONTENT
The litany begins with the call for mercy upon God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, in the "Kyrie eleison", "Christe eleison", Kyrie eleison". Then, considering Christ as our Saviour and Mediator, we ask Him to hear us. In order to render more secure the hearing of our prayers, we again ask each of the Persons of the Holy Trinity for mercy, and, adding those titles which give us a claim to Their consideration, we call upon the First Person: God, the Father of Heaven, to whom we owe existence and life; the Second: Redeemer of the world, to Whom we owe our salvation; the Third: Holy Ghost, to whom we owe our sanctification; and then on the Holy Trinity, one God.
To render God propitious, we, aware of our own unworthiness, ask the intercession of those who have become His special friends, through a holy life, the saints in lasting communion with Him. Foremost among these stands Mary, the chosen daughter of the Father, the undefiled mother of the Son, the stainless bride of the Holy Ghost -- we call upon her with the triple invocation: Holy Mary, Mother of God, Virgin of virgins. We then invoke the blessed spirits who remained firm in their allegiance to the Almighty during the rebellion of Lucifer and his adherents: Michael, prince of the heavenly host; Gabriel, "fortitude of God", the trusted companion of Tobias; and the other angels, archangels, and orders of blessed "ministering spirits, sent to minister for them, who shall receive the inheritance of salvation" (Hebrews 1:14). Next in our confidence is he of whom Christ says "There hath nor risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:11), the precursor of the Lord, the last of the Prophets of the Old Law and the first of the New.
Next in order come St. Joseph, the foster-father of the Incarnate Word; and all the Patriarchs and Prophets who saved their souls in the hope of Him Who was the expected of the nations. Then follow the saints: Peter, prince of the Apostles, vice-regent of Christ; Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles; Andrew, who first heeded the call of the Master; James the Greater and John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, who, with St. Peter, were most favoured by Christ; Thomas, called Didymus, who received from Christ signal proofs of His Resurrection; James the Less, first Bishop of Jerusalem; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew, once called Levi, the toll-gatherer, who wrote the First Gospel; Simon the Zealot; Jude Thaddeus; Matthias, who was chosen to fill the place of Judas Iscariot; Barnabas, called to the Apostolate by the Holy Ghost (Acts 13:2); Luke, the physician, writer of the Third Gospel and the Acts; Mark, the Evangelist, disciple of St. Peter; all the Apostles and Evangelists; the holy disciples of the Lord; the Holy Innocents, the infant martyr-flowers, "Who, slain at the command of Herod, confessed the name of the Lord not by speaking but by dying" (Rom. Brev.).
The glorious martyrs are then invoked: Stephen the Deacon, protomartyr, stoned at Jerusalem whilst praying for his executioners (Acts 7:58); Laurence, the Roman archdeacon; Vincent, the deacon of Saragossa in Spain; Fabian, the pope, and Sebastian, the soldier; John and Paul, brothers at the Court of Constantia, daughter of Constantine; Cosmas and Damian, renowned physicians of Ægea in Cilicia; Gervasius and Protasius, brothers at Milan; after which follows a collective impetration of all the holy martyrs. The litany now asks the prays of St. Sylvester, the pope who saw the triumph of the Crucified over paganism; of the Doctors of the Church; Sts. Gregory the Great, pope; Ambrose of Milan; Augustine of Hippo, in Africa; and Jerome, representing Dalmatia and the Holy Land; of the renowned Bishops Martin of Tours; Nicholas of Myra; of all the holy bishops and confessors; of all the holy teachers; of the founders of religious orders: Anthony, father of the anchorites of the desert; Benedict, patriarch of the Western monks; Bernard; Dominic; Francis; of all holy priests and levites; of monks and hermits. We then invoke Mary Magdalen, the model of Christian penance and of a contemplative life, of whom Christ said: "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world that also which she hath done, shall be told for a memory of her" (Matthew 26:13); the virgins and martyrs: Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Catherine, and Anastasia the Younger; and in conclusion of the holy virgins and widows; all the holy men and women.
The second part of the litany begins with another cry of "Be merciful to us, spare us O Lord; Be merciful to us, graciously hear us O Lord". We then enumerate the ills from which we hope to be delivered: From all evils; from sin; the wrath of God; sudden and unprovided death; the snares of the devil; anger, hatred, and all ill will; the spirit of fornication; lightning and tempest; the scourge of earthquake; plague, famine, and war; from everlasting death. To make our prayers more effective, we present to Christ all that He did for us through the mystery of the Incarnation, through His coming, nativity, baptism and holy fasting, cross and passion, death and burial, holy resurrection, admirable ascension, the coming of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and we conclude by the petition, "In the day of judgment, O Lord, deliver us."
In the third part we humbly acknowledge our unworthiness: "We, sinners, beseech Thee, hear us", and add the list of favours that we wish to obtain: that the Lord spare us; pardon us; and bring us to true penance; that He govern and preserve His holy Church; preserve our Apostolic prelate, and all orders of the Church, in holy religion; humble the enemies of the Church; give peace and true concord to Christian kings and princes; peace and unity to Christian nations; strengthen and preserve us in His holy service; raise our minds to heavenly desires; reward with eternal good all our benefactors; deliver us, our brethren, kinsfolk, and benefactors, from eternal damnation; give and preserve the fruits of the earth; and grant eternal rest to the faithful departed. We ask all this in calling upon the Son of God, thrice invoking the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We repeat the "Kyrie", as in the beginning, and add the prayer taught by Christ Himself, the Our Father. Then follow psalm lxix, "O God, come to my assistance", etc., and a number of verses, responses, and prayers, renewing the former petitions. We conclude with an earnest request to be heard, and an appeal for the faithful departed.
Three forms of the Litany of the Saints are at present in liturgical use.
The form given above is prescribed by the Roman Ritual at the laying of the corner-stone of a new church, at the blessing or reconciliation of the same or of a cemetery, in the rite of blessing the people and fields in virtue of a special papal indult, for the major and minor Rogation Days, in the procession and prayers to obtain rain or fine weather, to avert storms and tempests, in time of famine or war, to escape mortality or in time of pestilence, in any tribulation, during the translation of relics, in solemn exorcisms of the possessed, and at the Forty Hours' Devotion. The Roman Pontifical, besides the occasions given in the Ritual, orders its recitation in the conferring of major orders, in the consecration of a bishop, benediction of an abbot or abbess, consecration of virgins, coronation of a king or queen, consecration of a church, expulsion and readmission of public penitents on Maundy Thursday, and in the "Ordo ad Synodum".
Another form is given in the Roman Missal for Holy Saturday and the Vigil of Pentecost. It is an abbreviation of the other. Each verse and response must be duplicated in this litany and in that chanted on Rogation Days (S.R.C., 3993, ad 4).
A third form is in the "Commendatio" of the Roman Ritual, in which the invocations and supplications are specially chosen to benefit the departing soul about to appear before its Maker (Holzhey, "Thekla-Akten", 1905, 93). This and the preceding form may not be used on other occasions (S.R.C., 2709, ad 1). Formerly it was customary to invoke only classes of saints, then individual names were added, and in many places local saints were added (Rock, "The Church of Our Fathers", London, 1903, 182; "Manuale Lincopense", Paderborn, 1904, 71). To obtain uniformity, changes and additions to the approved were forbidden (S.R.C., 2093, 3236, 3313).
Publication information Written by Francis Mershman. Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to the Poor Souls in Purgatory The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
Romische Quartalschrift (1903), 333; BYKOUKAL in BUCHBERGER, Kirchliches Handlex., s.v.. Litanei; PUNKES in Kirchenlex., s.v. Litanei; SAMSON, Die Allerheiligen Litanei (Paderborn, 1894); Pastor Bonus, III, 278.
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