(λιτανεία, entreaty), a word the specific meaning of which has varied considerably at different times, is used in the liturgical services of some churches to designate a solemn act of supplication addressed with the object of averting the divine anger, and especially on occasions of public calamity. Hooker, in his Ecclesiastical Polity (book 5, page 265), has the following: "As things invented for one purpose are by use easily converted to more, it grew that supplications with this solemnity for the appeasing of (God's wrath and the averting of public evils were of the Greek Church termed litanies; rogations, of the Latins." The term litany for a supplicatory form of worship among the pagans was early adopted by Christian writers. In the fourth century we find such occasions as litanies connected with processions, the clergy and people in solemn procession using certain forms of supplication and making special entreaty for deliverance. Whether anything of this kind would have been ventured before Christianity became a "religio licia" (A.D. 270) may be doubted. The predominance of a Christian population, however, in certain localities, and the intervals of repose between persecutions, admit of their possibility at an earlier period. In these earliest developments, moreover, of the processional litany, whether before or during the fourth century, they rested, doubtless, upon an earlier Christian habit and custom — that of special seasons of prayer and supplication. These, in some cases, would be by the assembled body of believers in their houses or places of assembling; in others, for purposes of safety from the fury of their enemies, in their individual homes and places of abode. Certainly the Church was not wanting in such occasions during the first centuries of her existence, when the course pursued by the disciples at Jerusalem (Ac 12:5), and for similar reasons would need to be repeated. Occasions of this particular kind would of course pass away with the passing away of persecution. But others of a different character would take their place. As early, indeed, as the times of Tertullian and Cyprian we find allusions to Christian prayers, and fastings, and supplications for the removal of drought, the repelling of enemies, the moderation of calamities; and later, in the fourth and fifth centuries, we find the same thing, on a larger scale and in a more formal manner. Theodosius, preliminary to a battle, spent the whole night in fasting and prayer, and in sackcloth went with the priests and people to make supplication in all the churches. So, again, in the reign of one of his successors, a solemn litany or supplication on account of a great earthquake was made at Constantinople. In these last cases, the element, to which allusion has been made, that of the procession, was undoubtedly present, and so continued until the time of the Reformation; the name litany, indeed, being sometimes used simply to describe this part of it. as where seven litanies are directed by Gregory the Great to proceed from seven different churches (see below). The processions of the Arians in the times of Chrysostom, and the counter movement, on his part, by more splendid and imposing ones, to detract from any popularity which the Arians may have attained in this way, are described by Socrates. It is not at all improbable that in somewhat the same manner the hymns of Arius became circulated in Alexandria in the early part of the fourth century, and found lodgment in the minds of the populace.
The prevalence of litanies in the Western Church may be recognized after the beginning of the fifth century; and during the time of Charlemagne we find allusion to large numbers of them, to be attended to as a matter of special appointment. The Council of Orleans, A.D. 511, expressly recognizes litanies as peculiarly solemn supplications, and enjoins their use preparatory to the celebration of a high festival. In the Spanish Church, in like manner, they were observed in the week after Pentecost. Other councils subsequently appointed them at a variety of other seasons, till, in the seventeenth Council of Toledo, A.D. 694, it was decreed that they should be used once in each month. By degrees they were extended to two days in each week, and Wednesday and Friday, being the ancient stationary days, were set apart for the purpose. Gregory the Great instituted a service at Rome for the 25th of April, which was named Litacia Septiformis, because a procession was formed in it of seven different classes. This service is distinguished as Litania Major, from its extraordinary solemnity. The Litaniae Minores, on the other hand, are supposed by Bingham to consist only of a repetition of Κύριε ἐλέησον, the customary response in the larger supplications. "It was a short form of supplication, used one way or other in all churches, and that as a part of all their daily offices, whence it borrowed the name of the Lesser Litany, in opposition to the greater litanies, which were distinct, complete, and solemn services, adapted to particular times or extraordinary occasions. I must note, further, that the greater litanies are sometimes termed 'exomologeses' — confessions — because fasting, and weeping, and mourning, and confession of sins were usually enjoined with supplication, to avert God's wrath, and reconcile him to a sinful people." Du Cange cites a passage from the acts of the Colc. Cloveshoviense, A.D. 747, confirming the identity of litania and royatio, but showing that originally there was a distinction between litania and exomologesis. Johannes de Janua terms litany, properly, a service for the dead. But Du Cange, by the authorities he cites for the early litanies, hazards the assertion that they differ but little from those in modern usage. In the Western litanies two features are to be found not prevalent in the Eastern — the invocation of saints, and the appointment of stated annual seasons for their use, as the rogation days of the Romish, and the tri- weekly usage of the English Church. There is, indeed, mention made of an annual litany in commemoration of the great earthquake in the reign of Justinian. But the general and present habit of the patriarchate of Constantinople has been and is to confine such services to their original purpose-extraordinary occasions.
Freeman (Principles of Divine Service, 2:325) insists that in its origin the litany is distinctly a "eucharistic feature," a series of intercessions closely associated with the eucharistic sacrifice. So we find in the East, and so it was originally in the West also, one most notable feature being the pleading of the work of Christ in behalf of his Church. In a Syriac form given by Renaudot, the priest, taking the paten and cup in his right and left hand, commemorates
(1) the annunciation; (2) the nativity; (3) the baptism; (4) the passion; (5) the lifting up on the cross; (6) the life-giving death; (7) the burial; (8) the resurrection; (9) the session.
Then follows the remembrance of the departed, and then supplication for all, both living and departed, ending with three kyries and the Lord's Prayer. This extended eucharistic intercession St. Ephraem the Syrian rendered into a very solemn hymn (comp. Blunt, Dict. of Doctr. and Hist. Theol. page 417).
As to the peculiar structure of litanies, which are prayers, certain features may be mentioned that distinguish them from other prayers (the collects and the so-called common prayers), for in the litany the priest or minister does not pray alone, the people responding after each separate petition. It is even not absolutely necessary that the minister should lead, as the whole may be divided between two choirs; for we must also notice that the litany, occupying a medium position between prayer and singing, may be sung or spoken, according to the custom of the place where it is used. Some compositors even — Mozart, for instance — sometimes treated it in the same manner as the usual Church chants (the Stabat Mater, Requiemn, etc.); but in this case, by losing the distinction between petitions and responses, the litany entirely changed its character. In the next place, it must be noticed that in all litanies preceding the Reformation there is great uniformity. They all begin alike — Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, and end alike — Agnus Dei, qui tollis, etc. In this respect they resemble the mass. A form of supplication somewhat resembling a litany exists in the Apostolical Constitutions; as the deacon named the subjects of petition, the people answered to each, Lord, have mercy. That of the Church of England begins with an invocation of the persons of the Trinity, but uses the old invocations in its progress and close. In their original purpose litanies were connected with fasting and humiliation, and were therefore inappropriate to the festal character of the Sunday service. In this respect their usage has been changed, and they are now part of divine service not only on Sundays, but on the most joyous seasons of Christian commemoration, such as Easter and Christmas day. One of the last efforts, indeed, in this kind of composition is the litany of Zinzendorf for Easter morning. The ordinary arrangement of litany material may be described as, first, the invocations, where we find the greatest difference between Romish and Protestant litanies; these are followed by the deprecations, from which this kind of service originally took its predominant character; next come intercessions for various classes and conditions of men, the whole closing with supplications for divine audience, and blessing upon the worshippers. The litany of the Church of Rome is that of Gregory, with subsequent additions, especially in the material of invocation to the body of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and all the saints. There was an earlier form, bearing the name of Ambrose, agreeing in many respects with the Lutheran and English (see below). There was another, put in shape by Mamertius, bishop of Vienna, about the year 460, which was used by Sidonius of Arranque soon after, in connection with an invasion of the Goths, the annual usage of which the Council of Orleans enjoined. That of Gregory, however, composed during the next century, became the prevailing one, or rather the typical form of others in subsequent use.
The three different forms now in use in the Romish churches are called the "litany of the saints" (which is the most ancient), the "litany of the name of Jesus," and the " litany of Our Lady of Loretto." Of these the first alone has a place in the public service-books of the Church, on the rogation days, in the ordination service, the service for the consecration of churches, the consecration of cemeteries, and many other offices. The one called by the name of litany of the saints bears its name from the prayers it contains to the saints for their help and intercession in behalf of the worshippers. Almost every saint in the calendar of the Romish Church has his particular form in the litany. The people's response in the prayer is Orca pro nobis, "Pray for us." The litany of Jesus consists of a number of addresses to Christ under his various relations to men, in connection with the several details of his passion, and of a djurations of him through the memory of what he has done and suffered for the salvation of mankind. The date of this form of prayer is uncertain, but it is referred, with much probability, to the time of St. Bernardino of Siena, in the 15th century. The litany of Loretto SEE LORETTO resembles both the above-named litanies in its opening addresses to the Holy Trinity and in its closing petitions to the "Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world;" but the main body of the petitions are addressed to the Virgin Mary under various titles, some taken from the Scriptures, some from the language of the fathers, some from the mystical writers of the mediaeval Church. Neither this litany nor that of Jesus has ever formed part of any of the ritual or liturgical offices of the Catholic Church, but there can be no doubt that both have in various ways received the sanction of the highest authorities of the Romish Church. Those of the Lutheran and English churches, which are very much alike, are derived from the same source, being shorter in that these invocations are expunged.
In the Church of England it was originally a distinct service, and seems to have been used at a different time of day from the ordinary morning service, and only on certain occasions. In 1544 it was given to the people in a revised form by Henry VIII. Upon its insertion in the Prayer-book published by Edward VI, A.D. 1549, the litany was placed between the communion office and the office of baptism, under the title "'The Litany and Suffrages," without any rubric for its use; but at the end of the communion office occurred the following rubric: "Upon Wednesdays and Fridays the English litany shall be said or sung in all places, after such form as is appointed by his majesty's injunctions, or as it shall be otherwise appointed by his highness." In the revision of the Common Prayer in 1552, the litany was placed where it now stands, and the rubric was added to "be used on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and at other times when it shall be commanded by the ordinary." So late as the last revision in 1661, the litany continued a distinct service by itself, used sometimes after the morning prayer (then read at a very early hour) was concluded, the people returning home between them. The rubric which inserts the litany after the third collect in morning prayer is formed from a similar rubric in the Scotch Common Prayerbook, with this difference, that the English rubric enjoins the omission of certain of the ordinary intercessional prayers; the Scotch rubric, on the other hand, states expressly, "without the omission of any part of the other daily service of the Church on those days." The litany of the German and Danish Lutherans closely resembles that of the Church of England and that of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, and needs, therefore, no special mention here.
The processional feature is still retained in the Greek and Roman litanies on special occasions, but is not their special accompaniment. Efforts towards its restoration in the English and American Episcopal Church have for the past ten years been in progress. Judging from the prevalent sentiment of the episcopate in both countries, and the tone of the last General Convention in this, the prospects of success are not very favorable. See Procter, Book of Common Prrayer, page 246 sq.; Palmer, Origines Liturgices, 1:264 sq.; Wheatly, Common Prayer, page 163 sq.; Dean Stanley in Good Words for 1868 (June); Coleman, Manual of Prelacy and Ritualism, page 392 sq.; Christian Antiq. page 661; Blunt, Dict. Doct. and Hist. Theol. s.v.; Eacdie, Ecclesiastical Dictionary, s.v.; Walcott, Sacred Archaeology, page 353. SEE LITURGY.