litany (lĭtˈənē) [key] [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.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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