Greek Church (§ 1).
Roman Catholic Church (§ 2).
Churches of the Reformation (§ 3).
The Litany is a prayer of supplication, especially in responsive form. With the Greeks litaneia denotes a processional prayer, an act of prayer connected with the procession, or the procession itself. The term is used in the first sense by Chrysostom, Eustratius (6th cent.), Simeon of Thessalonica (d. 1429), and Codinus, while it denotes the procession in the Chronicon Paschale, Malalas, Georgius Cedrenus, and Michael Glycas. In the acts of the fifth Council of Constantinople, as well as in Philotheus, Simeon of Thessalonica, and Theodorus Lector, it designates the prayer connected with the procession, which here implies not only the procession outside the church but also the passing of light-bearers, priests, deacons, and choristers to the narthex, where the litany was recited, a usage established as early as the Council of Constantinople in 536. This custom still continues, and in this minor procession the litany is recited at the close of the great vespers before the chief feasts, and also in such processions as those of burial. This litany, also called ectene, or "deacon's litany," is essentially the prayer for the whole Church found in the ancient Oriental liturgies (Apostolic Constitutions, viii., and
In the Roman Catholic Church the term litany has several connotations. The invocation Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison and the supplications in the ancient liturgy made at the bidding of the deacon, corresponding to the Greek ectene, are both called litany, although the latter was technically known as the deprecation. The term litany was frequently applied to the processions of supplication, and a distinction was accordingly drawn between the "greater litany" on St. Mark's Day (Apr. 25) and the "lesser litanies" which are recited on the three Rogation Days (q.v.). The word was likewise employed with extreme frequency in its modern connotation of the responsive prayer beginning with Kyrie eleison, and this use finally gained supremacy, the term litany as a designation of a circuit with prayer being superseded by "procession" about the twelfth century. The older designation of the processions as litanies was retained, however, in the "greater litany" and the "lesser litanies," the former being a substitute for the pagan robigalia or festival of Apr. 25, and apparently instituted by Pope Liberius (352-366) rather than by Gregory the Great, and the latter the survival of the Roman ambarvalia or procession around the fields. The custom of processions, which had almost fallen into desuetude, was revived by Mamertus about 470, while Leo III. (795-816) reorganized the spring rogations according to Gallic usage and introduced them throughout the Catholic Church. The name "greater" and "lesser," the former denoting a procession of one day and the latter of three, is explained by the relative antiquity of the two.
The origin of the form of prayer now known by the name of litany is uncertain. It is usually assumed that it is a development and transformation of the Greek ectene although the hypothesis has been advanced that its long lists of saints and its response "pray (or, intercede) for us," are survivals of the formula recited by the Pontifex Maximus according to the indigitamenta, or old books of direction for worship, so that they can not be older than the fourth century; but no corresponding formularies can be cited from the indigitamenta. It is not impossible that the Western procession (in contradistinction to the oriental) was not a development of the prayer called litany, but had an independent origin, which seems to have been derived from pagan models. Later the processional litany was amplified from the "deacon's litany" and was separated from the procession, although this litany was most tenacious in places where a procession once actually existed. The litany usually began with the invocation Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, or "Christ, hear us," which preceded the invocation of the saints, the people responding after each name "pray for us." Certain perils and dangers were then enumerated, to which the congregation responded with the deprecation "Lord, deliver us," and these were followed by a series of petitions for blessings with the response "hear us, we beseech thee," the whole concluding with the Agnus Dei (q.v.) and the Kyrie eleison. This general scheme was modified in many ways. The names of the saints invoked varied according to place and circumstance, and the litany, according to the number of times each was invoked, was termed ternary, quinary, and septenary.
The litany was essentially penitential, and it never lost this character, whence it was frequently connected with the seven penitential Psalms. It was extraordinarily popular and was used on the most varied occasions, such as the blessing of the baptismal water on Holy Saturday, the dedication of a church, ordination, coronation, baptism, confession, visitation of the sick, extreme unction, and the ordinal. It originally opened the mass, as is shown by the Constitutions of Cluny and the Stowe Missal, the same usage prevailing at Milan. It is clear, in the light of all evidence, that the Kyrie which now follows the Introit in the ordinary of the mass is a remnant of the processional litany. The popularity of the litany resulted in the composition of many new ones, some of them in metrical form and occasionally deviating widely from the model and spirit of the Church. The public use of new litanies was consequently made conditional on ecclesiastical approbation, and the only litanies now officially sanctioned in the Roman Catholic Church are the Litany of the Saints (approved 1601), the Litany of Loreto (approved 1587), the Litany of the Most Holy Name of Jesus (approved 1862), and the Litany of the Sacred Heart (approved Apr. 2, 1899). The Litany of the Saints, in its present form, is the liturgical litany par excellence, and is used on such occasions as the conferring of major orders, the blessing of the font on Holy Saturday and Whitsun Eve, as well as on the Rogation Days and St. Mark's Day. The form adopted was fixed in 1596, with a few additions made in 1683 and 1847, and contains sixty-three invocations of saints with the response "pray for us." The Litany of Loreto is devoted to the Virgin and receives its name from the fact that for centuries it has been sung on Saturdays in the Holy House of Loreto. Each penitential recitation of it gives an indulgence of 300 days, and its repetition on five designated feasts of the Virgin confers a plenary indulgence. The Litany of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, which, according to the Roman Catholic view, originated in the fifteenth century, likewise gives an indulgence of 300 days. These three litanies are also used in liturgical services and processions, but are sung only in Latin. There are in addition a number of litanies with episcopal sanction, such as those for brotherhoods, which are recited in the vernacular at non-liturgical public devotions.
In the first period of the Wittenberg Reformation
In the northern and central parts of Germany no uniformity whatever prevailed in the time of the recitation of the litany. Wednesday and Friday were, on the whole, the favorite days, although it might also be recited on Tuesday, Sunday festivals, and at vespers on Saturday. Local usage in many cases prescribed it for special days, while numerous church orders required it to be said occasionally, although no special day was designated. The place which the litany occupied in the North and Middle German liturgy likewise varied. It might be recited alone, either in the morning or the evening, after the lesson, epistle, or sermon, and before or during the communion. An equal lack of uniformity prevailed in southern and southwestern Germany, but there the litany, in harmony with the intention of Luther, retained its original character of a penitential prayer more than in the north, so that in Strasburg it followed the confession and absolution. The litany was subject, furthermore, to numerous local modifications, petitions being inserted or omitted practically at pleasure.
In Wittenberg the German litany was chanted by the choir-boys, while the congregation sang the responses, although ultimately one part of the choir chanted the petitions and the other responded. The Latin litany was sung only in the latter fashion. In the seventeenth century the Latin litany was discarded altogether, and in case there was a trained choir, the pastor, kneeling or standing with his face toward the altar, intoned the petition, while the congregation, led by the choir, sang the responses. If for any reason the litany was not sung, it might be recited or read. These modes of repeating the litany gradually supplanted the singing of it, but on the whole, though it is still retained in almost all modern German liturgies, it has lost its hold in great measure on the congregations because of its monotony.
The Reformed Church had little sympathy with the litany, and rejected it almost without exception, so that wherever Calvinism gained supremacy over Lutheranism, the litany was abolished.
The Moravians have two litanies, the "Church Litany " and the "Litany of the Life, Passion, and Death of Jesus Christ." The former is used in a double form, a shorter version having been made in 1873, while the latter is derived from the "Litany of Wounds" composed by Zinzendorf in 1744.
The litany of the English Book of Common Prayer was originally intended to be a distinct office. A rubric in the first prayer-book (1549) ordered it to be said on Wednesdays and Fridays, before the communion-office. It was then placed after the communion-office, and in 1552 put in the place it now occupies, with the direction that it was to be "used upon Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and at other times when it shall be commanded by the ordinary." The clause in Edward's prayerbook, "From the tyranny of the Bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities," was omitted in 1559.
On litanies, in general consult: Bingham,
Origenes, XIII., i. 10-12; E. Martène, De antiquis ecclesiæ
ritibus, Antwerp, 1763; M. Gerbert, Vitus liturgia Alemannica,
parts ii.- iii., San Blas, 1776; idem, Monumenta
veteris liturgiæ Alemannicæ, part ii., ib. 1779; A. J.
Binterim, Denkwürdigkeiten, iv. 1, pp. 555 sqq., Mainz,
1827; C. W. Augusti, Denkwürdigkeiten, x. 26 sqq., Leipsic,
1829; T. F. D. Kliefoth, Liturgische Abhandlungen,
v. 301 sqq., 373 sqq., 398 sqq., vi. 152 sqq., 225 sqq., 298
sqq., viii. 66 sqq., 8 vols., Schwerin, 1858-69; J. M.
Neale, Essays on Liturgiology and Church History, London,
1863; A. P. Stanley, Christian Institutions, chap.
xii., New York, 1881; G. Rietschel, Lehrbuch der Liturgik,
i. 200-201 et passim, Berlin, 1900; F. Spitta, in
Monatschrift für Gottesdienst und kirchliche Kunst, vi
(1901), 375 sqq.; L. Duchesne, Christian Worship, passim, London, 1904.
On the Lauretanian Litany consult: J. Sauren, Die lauretanische Litanei, Kempten, 1895; A. de Santi, Le Litanei Lauretane, Rome, 1897; J. Braun, in Stimmen aus Maria Laach, Iviii (1900), 418-437. On the litany of the Brethren cf. J. T. Müller, in Monatschrift für Gottesdienst und kirchliche Kunst, vii. 1902. On the Anglican Litany consult: J. H. Blunt, Annotated Book of Common Prayer, London, 1903; J. N. McCormick, The Litany and the Life, Milwaukee, 1904; F. Procter and W. H. Frere, New Hist. of the Book of Common Prayer, London, 1905. No small part of the literature cited under LITURGY necessarily deals with the litany.
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