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The Litany, and occasional Prayers and
HE word litany was originally applied Meaning of
to any earnest petition, whether public Litany. or private, whether addressed to God or man; as we may see from the use of the word Tavevo in Homer and Hesiod. ancient Christians the word was used as another term for prayer. Eusebius says of Constantine, that a short time before his death he entered the church of the martyrs at Heliopolis, and there offered supplications and litanies to God; ἱκετηρίους εὐχάς τε καὶ Vit. Const. λιτανείας ἀνέπεμπε τῷ Θεῷ. But towards the end of the fourth century, the word was more especially applied in the Eastern Church to certain solemn offices performed with processions of the clergy and people. The Arians Origin of of Constantinople in the time of St Chrysostom of service. not being permitted to meet for divine service within the walls, paraded through the city, singing anthems and hymns suited to their heresy, and so proceeded to their place of worship outside the city. To counteract the effect which this display might have upon the
B. C. P.
people, Catholic processions were established on a more splendid scale, which were called litanies. From the East they passed into the West; the first person who introduced them in the West being Mamertus, bishop of Vienne, in France, about the year 460. His diocese being visited with several dreadful calamities, he appointed litanies, or rogations, as they were called in Latin, to be celebrated on the three days preceding the feast of the Ascension. And as these days were annually observed in the same manner, they acquired the name which they still retain, of rogationdays. About the year 600, on account of a great pestilence at Rome, Pope Gregory the Great appointed a litany to be solemnized; which was called litania septiformis, because he ordered the people to go in procession in seven distinct classes; first the clergy, then the laymen, then the monks, after them the virgins, then the married women, next the widows, and last of all, the poor and the children. These services having been at first instituted on occasions of public distress, were repeated on the anniversaries of those occasions, and at other times of humiliation, e. g. in the time of Lent, and on Wednesdays and Fridays. From the Gallican Church these
processional services were introduced into England at a very early period. In the AngloSaxon Church the Rogation-days were called Gang-days. A litany of the English Church has been printed, as old probably as the 8th century, containing a large portion of that which we repeat at the present day, and preserving exactly the same form of petition and response which we still use.
It appears, therefore, that this kind of service took its origin in the Eastern Church, and was subsequently adopted in the West. That peculiarity in the Litany, according to which the minister begins each petition, and the people conclude it, is also of oriental origin. It prevailed in the East from the earliest period, and is found in the Communion-Service, and other offices of the Eastern Churches; while it did not prevail in the West till a much later period, and has always been sparingly used.
made in the
Many alterations were made by our Reform- Changes ers in this part of the service; of which the following are the most worthy of note.
1 The processions were discontinued. In the year 1547 the word procession was synonymous with litany; and processions were enjoined by king Henry VIII. in 1544, when
he caused the Litany to be translated into English, in order to encourage the attendance of the people at them. But the only relic of that ancient custom is now to be found in the practice of perambulating the bounds of parishes on or before Ascension-day. The injunctions of Archbishop Grindal, in 1571, direct Perambulation to be used by the people, for viewing the bounds of their parishes, in the days of the Rogation, commonly called Cross week, or Gang-days: that the minister use none other ceremonies than to say the two Psalms beginning "Benedic anima mea Dominum," that is to say, Psalms ciii. and civ., and such sentences of Scripture as be appointed by the Queen's injunctions, with the Litany and suffrages following the same, and reading one homily already decreed and set forth for that purpose: without wearing any surplice, carrying of banners or hand-bells, or staying at crosses, or such like popish ceremonies.'
2 The invocations of the Saints were omitted. These invocations never had any place in the litanies of the East; and it is probable that in the West they are not of earlier date than the eighth century. Before that time it was customary to repeat Kyrie eleison very frequently, so that the name
litany was given to that exclamation. In an ancient litany of the Roman Church, used on the vigil of the Assumption, the people repeated with tears and prayers Kyrie eleison a hundred times, Christe eleison a hundred times, and Kyrie eleison again a hundred times. (Hence the triple exclamation which we use before the Lord's Prayer, 'Lord, have mercy upon us,' &c. is still called the lesser litany). The response of the people, Christe eleison, was not customary in the Greek Church, and was peculiar to the West. By the Roman Church invocations of Saints were carried to such an extent as to form the chief part of the Litany. In the Breviary they are more than sixty in number: their place is after the invocation of the Trinity; each Apostle and Saint being called upon separately, with the petition ora pro nobis. As early as 1538 the injunctions of Cromwell prescribe the omission in the processions of the ora pro nobis to so many saints; whereby they had no time to sing the good suffrage Parce nobis Domine, Libera nos Domine.'
3 The service has been rendered more penitential by the addition of the words 'miserable sinners' in the opening invocations, and of the ancient anthem, 'Remember not, Lord,'