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litany

litany (lĬt´ənē) [Gr.,=prayer], solemn prayer characterized by varying petitions with set responses. The term is mainly used for Christian forms. Litanies were developed in Christendom for use in processions. In the West there were traditionally four days for these processional litanies, the Rogation Days. The Eastern liturgies make frequent use of litanies, recited by the deacon; the response is usually "Lord, have mercy." The Kyrie eleison is a relic of such a litany. In the Roman Catholic Church the one liturgical litany, the Litany of the Saints, dates from the 5th cent. substantially. Modeled after it are a number of nonliturgical (i.e., nonprescribed) litanies, of which the following are authorized: Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus (15th cent.), Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary (or of Loreto; 16th cent.), Litany of the Sacred Heart, and Litany of St. Joseph. The litany in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is much like the Litany of the Saints. Moravian and Lutheran liturgies also use litanies.

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litany

lit·a·ny / ˈlitn-ē/ • n. (pl. -nies) a series of petitions for use in church services or processions, usually recited by the clergy and responded to in a recurring formula by the people. ∎  a tedious recital or repetitive series: a litany of complaints.

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litany

litany liturgical form of supplication. XIII. ME. letanie (later assim. to L.) — OF. letanie (mod. litanie) — ecclL. litanīa — Gr. litaneíā prayer, entreaty, f. litanós suppliant, f. lité supplication, litésthai entreat.

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litany

litany. Christian prayer for supplication—'Deliver us, O Lord’, etc.—often set to mus. Sometimes the title of instr. works, e.g. Fricker's Litany for double str. orch.

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Litany, the

Litany, the in the Christian Church, a series of petitions for use in church services or processions, usually recited by the clergy and responded to in a recurring formula by the people.

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Litany

Litany (Gk., ‘supplication’). A form of prayer, often addressed to God, but also to the Virgin Mary or to saints, made up of a series of petitions.

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litany

litanyLéonie, peony •Tierney •Briony, bryony, Hermione •tourney • ebony • Albany •chalcedony • Alderney •Persephone, Stephanie, telephony •antiphony, epiphany, polyphony, tiffany •symphony •cacophony, homophony, theophany, Zoffany •euphony • agony • garganey •Antigone •cosmogony, mahogany, theogony •balcony • Gascony • Tuscany •calumny •felony, Melanie, miscellany •villainy • colony •Chamonix, salmony, scammony, Tammany •harmony •anemone, Emeny, hegemony, lemony, Yemeni •alimony, palimony •agrimony • acrimony •matrimony, patrimony •ceremony • parsimony • antimony •sanctimony • testimony • simony •Romany • Germany • threepenny •timpani • sixpenny • tuppenny •accompany, company •barony • saffrony • tyranny •synchrony • irony • saxony • cushiony •Anthony • betony •Brittany, dittany, litany •botany, cottony, monotony •gluttony, muttony •Bethany • oniony • raisiny •attorney, Burney, Czerny, Ernie, ferny, gurney, journey, Verny

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Litany

LITANY

Definition. A litany is a repetitive prayer form, usually characterized by the announcement of varying invocations (e.g. lists of divine titles, names of saints) or supplications by a leader, each of which is followed by a fixed congregational response. Examples of such responses in the Christian tradition are "Lord have mercy," "Pray for us," or "Amen." The genre of litanies as a form of public worship may be distinguished from other responsorial forms by their relative brevity and somewhat insistent quality. The word "litany" also designates a procession of intercessory prayer, such as those used on rogation days. Examples of liturgical litanies are the Kyrie eleison, Agnus Dei, solemn orations of Good Friday, and litany of the saints. This entry discusses the origin and development of litany as prayer.

Origin. Chants resembling litanies can be traced to both Christian and non-Christian religions and cultures. Litanic patterns are found in the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g., Ps 136: Praise the Lord, who is so good; God's love endures forever, and Dn 3:5290: Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestors, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever ). These patterns are also discernible in extra-biblical Jewish litanies, such as the hashanot procession for the Feast of Tabernacles and the selichot. In the first century b.c. papyrus, Tebtunis Papyri 284.9, the Greek noun litaneia derived from the verb litaneuo, meaning to "entreat" or "implore"was used to refer to a pagan prayer. Early Christian writers often used litaneia and the related noun lite to signify public and corporate rather than private and individual prayer, especially for forgiveness of sins and the general welfare. These prayers were often invoked on occasions of earthquakes, plagues, and other disasters, and they soon came to be associated with public processions. The diverse forms of the term litaneia underwent a shift of meaning. In the fifth-and sixth-century documents, for example, an epistle of the Council of Ephesus (431) and a report on the Council of Tyre (518), these word forms seem to connote the procession itself. In the Greek Orthodox Church, the primary meaning of the word litaneia remains "procession."

As early as the year 396, the Latin form of litania was in use. In medieval Latin, it was spelled letania and connoted some meanings not found in the Greek. Due to the fact that processions came to be commemorated on certain fixed days of the calendar, the Latin word was frequently used to indicate the procession days customary in the West, such as the rogation days celebrated on April 25 and the weekdays before Ascension. In a separate development, the word also designated the te rogamus, audi nos, the repetitive prayers that were chanted during these processions by a deacon or cantor, to which the people would respond: "Kyrie eleison" or "ora pro nobis." This latter meaning becomes the more prominent one in Latin, and it is from this that the final sense of the Western "litany" derives its meaning.

Eastern liturgies. An early manifestation of the litany in the East is in the diaconal liturgies, in which the deacon expresses an intercession and the people respond Kyrie eleison. While it may go back as far as the prayer of the synagogues, it was already in use in Antioch in the time of John Chrysostom. This form of prayer still occupies a large place in Eastern liturgies.

Byzantine liturgical rites contain five main types of texts that, according to Western terminology, may be called litanies : (1) the synapte, (2) the aitesis, (3) the ektene, (4) the dismissal litanies, and (5) the prayers of the lite. Each is led by a deacon. Synapte (Greek for "joined together") is a Byzantine term in which the deacon proposes petitions and the assembly responds "Lord have mercy" or "Grant this, O Lord." The "great synapte" begins with the deacon chanting "In peace, let us beseech the Lord." Because the first three petitions commence with an intercession for peace, the great synapte is also called the eirenika. The "little synapte" is an abridged version beginning with "Again and again in peace let us beseech the Lord."

The aitesis (request) is a litany in the Byzantine divine office consisting of two petitions with the response "Lord have mercy," six petitions with the response "Grant it, O Lord," and an acclamation to the Mother of God and to all the saints. It was also called the "Angel of Peace" litany from its characteristic fourth petition.

The ektene (fervent supplication) is a unique litany form in that the deacon prays directly to God rather than proposing petitions to the assembly. The deacon sings this litany after the reading of the gospel in the Divine Liturgy and as the conclusion of the daily orthos and hesperinos. It is called "intense" because the people respond by singing three times "Lord have mercy." Its use at processions and its persistent repetition of the Kyrie cause the ektene to be perhaps the most typical genre of litany. In the Slavonic rites all litanies are called ekteniya, even the synapte and aitesis.

Reporting on the fourth-century Jerusalem liturgy, Egeria observed that at the dismissal litany, unbaptized catechumens were dismissed before the great entrance to the Mass and at the liturgy of the Presanctified. The deacon begins by instructing those being prayed for to pray silently and then asks the already baptized to respond to the litany. Fully developed dismissal litanies are found in the Apostolic Constitutions in which the deacon is instructed to mention the name of each individual. After each petition, the assembly, especially children, shouted: Kyrie eleison. The Apostolic Constitutions also assign the use of the dismissal litany at every morning and evening prayer. Two other dismissal litanies were included: for those undergoing canonical penance and for those possessed by demons.

In the Byzantine liturgical rite, lite is a procession of clergy and people to an appointed church in celebrating a feast for the purpose of intercession or thanksgiving. It sometimes involved a procession at the end of Vespers in which a litany is chanted when the procession pauses in the vestibule of the church. The deacon begins with "O God, save your people and bless your inheritance" and then continues with a long list of prayers for the welfare of the Christian people, often invoking the names of many saints. Depending on the liturgical source one consults, the assembly responds to each group of petitions by answering Kyrie eleison as many as three, eight, twelve, forty, or fifty times. Incessant repetition of the Kyrie has a long history in the liturgy of the Eastern churches.

Various other Eastern rites use or formerly used litanies that may appear to be similar in form to Byzantine litanies, but they may be diverse in content. But for a few exceptions, Eastern rite litanies are practiced as public forms of worship. Private litanic prayers are more characteristic of the Western Church.

Western litanies. Some scholars propose a very early date for the use of the Kyrie eleison in the West. The fourth century hymn, Miserere Domine, miserere Christe by Gauis Marius Victorinus (d. after 363), bears witness to not only the Kyrie but also to the Christe eleison that was never used in the East. Judging from an anti-Arian tract of uncertain date, there is indication that Greeks, Latins, and Goths each prayed the Kyrie in their own language. The first dateable evidence of the practice of the Kyrie in the West is canon 3 of the Council of Vaison in Gaul (c. 529). The canon directs that since the custom of saying "Kyrie eleison" has been introduced "in Rome, and in all the provinces of Italy and the Orient," it should be introduced in all the churches for morning and evening Office and the Mass, being sure to say it "repeatedly with great sorrow and remorse." This instruction recalls the fervor of the Greek ektene and perhaps the council's desire for Latin litanies to be similar in structure to the Greek. Such Latin litanies are called preces or deprecationes.

There are three witnesses to these preces in the litanies of the West. The first is known as the Deprecatio Gelasii, used in Rome and attributed to Pope Gelasius (492496) after whom it is named. The opening phrase of the Deprecatio recalls the Greek ektene, "Let us all say: Lord, hear and have mercy." This was followed by an invocation to the Trinity, peculiar to the West. The content differs from the Eastern-type petitions, resembling the intentions of the solemn prayers of the faithful of the early Roman liturgy.

The next most important group of preces comprises two that were prayed in Milan during Lent, immediately after the entrance chant of the Ambrosian liturgy. These two litanies were prayed on the first two Sundays of Lent, respectively. They closely resembled the Greek ektene with "Let us all say: Kyrie eleison," followed by three Kyrie for the first week and one Kyrie for the second week.

The third Western source, the Mozarabic rite, had the most extensive body of preces -type litanies. They were used in the Lenten Masses, within the Office on penitential days, and for burial services. This group was the least dependent on Greek models and evidenced great creativity: many are metrical, some are acrostic, and a few even use rhyme. The Good Friday veneration of the Cross recalls the Eastern rite of the Exaltation of the Cross, with its profuse repetitions of "Kyrie eleison".

The most distinctive preces was the Tenebrae Service of Holy Week. It incorporated both the responses "Kyrie eleison" and "Domine miserere" with verses referring to the passion of Christ.

Litany of the saints. The Middle Ages witnessed the development of probably the most well known type of litany in the Western Churchthe litany of the saints. This litany is composed of a list of holy men and women, each name intoned by a leader, with the assembly's response "Ora pro nobis (pray for us)." Following the list of saints' names came a second list of calamities from which the petitioner sought deliverance, with the response "Libera nos, domine (deliver us, Lord)." A Greek antecedent to the litany of the saints may be seen at the end of the aetesis, in which the names of saints were often multiplied after the commemoration of the Virgin Mary.

Seventh-century testimony indicates that the litany of saints was a processional litany, connected particularly with the rogation days. The Greater Litany was the name of the procession for April 25, and the Lesser Litany for the three days preceeding Ascension Thursday. In addition to rogation days, processional litanies took place on many other occasions: Holy Saturday and the Pentecost vigil, fixed days during Lent and other penitential seasons, before stational liturgies in which the bishop and assembly would gather at one church and process to the next church where the Mass was to be celebrated, and in times of drought, famine, earthquake, and other calamities. The particular litany that accompanied the procession was indicative of the interior attitude and intent of the procession itself.

Until an imposed uniformity in 1570, the text of the litany of saints varied greatly from one locale to another in elements such as the number and selection of saints, and other material at beginning and end. Some forms of the litany of the saints had special functions. The commendatio animae, for example, was prayed over a dying person. The laudes regiae was usually sung at ceremonies at which the bishop or king took part, and was joined to the Kyrie in the beginning of Mass. This litany often began with "Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat" (Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands), and the response to each saint's name was frequently "Tu illum adiuva (you help him)."

The Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century, espousing a strong belief in justification by faith, rejected the mediatory and intercessory role of the saints and therefore purged the Reformation liturgies of any invocation of the saints. The Anglican archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, greatly influenced by Luther and Zwingli, retained the invocation of the saints initially, but he followed the example of the continental reformers in his 1549 Book of Common Prayer and omitted it.

Devotional litanies. Litanies addressed exclusively to the Virgin Mary began to emerge beginning in the twelfth century. Names of saints were replaced with Marian titles such as "Mater purissima" (Mother purest), "Regina apostolorum" (Queen of the apostles), and "Rosa Mystica" (Mystical Rose). The most well known Marian litany is probably the so-called Litany of Loreto, named for the Italian village where a revered house is reported to have been miraculously transported from Palestine by angels.

By the sixteenth century similar devotional litanies developed, such as one for the Holy Eucharist. Succeeding centuries saw the growth of other approved litanies, namely the Litanies of the Holy Name (1862), Sacred Heart (1899), St. Joseph (1909), and Most Precious Blood (1960).

Current liturgical usages. In the Missal of Paul VI, the Kyrie Eleison, long a litanic and musical element in the Mass, is sung after the penitential rite or takes the form of the penitential rite itself. In this case, a short verse (trope) addressed to Christ is interpolated by the minister to which the assembly alternates, "Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy." When it follows the penitential rite, the acclamation is alternated by the assembly and choir or cantor. While it is customary to repeat each acclamation twice, the number of repetitions may be increased according to circumstance (The General Instruction of the Roman Missal 52).

The prayer of the faithful, or "general intercessions" have been restored to their original place at the conclusion of the liturgy of the Word. While there is no prescribed form or response stipulated, supplication is to be made for the needs of the Church, public authorities, the salvation of the world, those in need, and the local community (GIRM 4547). The General Intercessions for Good Friday follow the general order given for all intercessions but are more expansive in scope to include catechumens, those preparing for baptism, the Jewish people and those who do not believe in Christ or in God. Some liturgists suggest that an effective use of sung response, silence, and postures of kneeling and standing, as allowed for in the sacramentary, could greatly enhance this litanic prayer.

The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is another example of an ancient litany in the Mass. According to a statement from the Liber Pontificalis (ed. Duchesne 1:376), Pope Sergius I (687701) directed that the Agnus Dei should be sung by the presider and people for as long as the consecrated bread was being divided for distribution in Communion. When the extended fraction rite was abandoned, the Agnus Dei was shortened to a litany of three petitions, and came to be reduced to a pre-Communion song. In the Mass of Paul VI, this litany is returned to its original function of accompanying the breaking of bread and the commingling. It may be repeated as often as needed; the final response being "grant us peace" (GIRM 56e).

Formularies of supplication litanies varying in text and melody according to the situation or circumstances are also included in various sacraments and sacramentals. Litanies of the saints are prescribed for the sacramental celebrations of adult and infant baptism and the ordination of a deacon, presbyter, or bishop. An intercessory form of litany is prayed during the anointing of the sick, following the Liturgy of the Word. The sacramentals that include a liturgical litany are as follows: religious professions, consecration of virgins, blessing of an abbot or abbess, dedication of a church or altar, Christian burial, and exorcism. In the Morning and Evening prayer, a litanic prayer form called preces follows the Gospel canticle.

Popularity of litanies. Between the years of the Council of Trent and Vatican II, popular devotions including various forms of litanies, often provided religious experience to the faithful in a more affective and intelligible manner than did the official services. Litanies were able to be prayed communally by ordinary people without the aid of liturgical office holders. At certain periods of history as well as today, they appealed to a large proportion of church members whatever their religious status and function, or their ethnic, educational, or socioeconomic background.

Contemporary composers, following the norms of the instruction Musicam Sacram (March 5, 1967), have retrieved the traditional form of litany to foster liturgical music that both respects the integrity of the rites and promotes active participation. The community of Taizé has taken the lead in composing litanic forms for such Mass parts as the gloria and credo, as well as hymns appropriate for other parts of the liturgy. Other composers have begun to utilize litanies as a way for assemblies of diverse languages to sing together with refrains and/or invocations of alternating languages. The short and repetitive nature of litanies is also being recognized by church musicians as useful for processional chants.

Bibliography: e. bishop, Liturgica Historica (Oxford 1962). p. jounel, "Les oraisons du propre des saints dans le nouveau missel," La Maison-Dieu 105 (1972): 18198. a. martimort, ed., The Church at Prayer: An Introduction to the Liturgy, tr. m. o'connell (Collegeville MN 1987). f. rainoldi, Psallite Sapienter (Rome 1999) 3940. d. rimaud, "The Litany: Biblical and Liturgical Use," Pastoral Music 12:6: 3235. The Rites of the Catholic Church, v. 2 (Pueblo 1980) 29293. l. weil, "The History of Christian Litanies," Liturgy: With All the Saints 5:2 (Fall 1985): 3337. m. whalen, "The Litany of the SaintsIts Place in the Grammar of Liturgy," Worship 65 (1991): 216223. j. wilkenson, Egeria's Travels (3d ed. Warminster, England, 1999).

[m. a. clarahan]

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