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The Litany





Origin of Litanies. Some of the Offices of Holy Communion--especially
in the East--have had a portion after the Gospel very similar to what
we call a Litany. Thus in the Liturgy (i.e. Holy Communion Office) of
S. James, the Deacon says The Universal Collect, consisting of
fifteen suffrages (see Appendix F), each ending with, Let us beseech
the Lord: and the Response of the people is, Lord have mercy, which
is said thrice at the end of the petitions. Similar to this is the
Prayer of Intense Supplication, in the Liturgy of S. Chrysostom. Cf.
also the modern Liturgy of Constantinople.

We should expect to find the further development of Litanies, in
Churches where the Eastern influence was felt; it is therefore no
surprise to us, that the history of them next takes us to the Churches
of Southern France. "The South of Gaul had been colonized originally
from the Eastern shores of the Aegaean. Its Christianity came from the
same regions as its colonization. The Church of Gaul was the {154}
spiritual daughter of the Church of proconsular Asia[1]."

Pothinus, Bp of Lyons and Vienne, had come probably from Asia Minor.
When, at the age of more than 90, he was martyred (A.D. 177), his
successor as Bishop was Irenaeus, who received part of his early
education in Asia Minor from Polycarp, a disciple of S. John the
Evangelist. Other martyrs, at Vienne and Lyons, in that year (A.D.
177), had come from Asia Minor. A map will show that Vienne is about
16 miles south of Lyons. Thus from the first days of the Church in
France, a close connection existed between it and the Church in Asia
Minor.

About A.D. 467[2], Mamertus, Archbishop of Vienne, ordered Litanies to
be said in procession on the three days before Ascension Day; being
moved thereto by a succession of calamities--earthquake, war, wild
beasts invading the city itself--followed shortly by the destruction of
the royal palace in Vienne by lightning. The practice spread to
neighbouring dioceses, and was confirmed by the Council of Orleans
(A.D. 511). The three days before Ascension Day are thence called
'Rogation Days'; and processions for purposes of prayer are called
Rogations, or Litanies.

The Rogation Litanies were not adopted at Rome {155} until the time of
Leo III. (795-816): but in a time of pestilence at Rome, Gregory the
Great, A.D. 590, instituted the Sevenfold Litany of S. Mark's Day.

Gregory the Great has been called the Apostle of the English, because
he intended to come as a missionary to convert the English; and, when
prevented from so doing by his election as Bishop of Rome, sent
Augustine in his stead A.D. 596. The yearly Synod of the English
Church was appointed in 673 to be held at Cloveshoo--a place probably
near London but in the kingdom of Mercia. In 747 at a great council
held at Cloveshoo, March 12 was appointed as S. Gregory's Day; May 26
as the day of S. Augustine Archbishop of Canterbury[3]; and Gregory's
Sevenfold Litany, together with the Rogation Services, was sanctioned
for use in England, with a phrase which implies that custom had already
introduced them.

The 2nd Book of Homilies (1562. See Art. xxxv). contains a Homily for
Rogation Week in four parts--three of which appear to be designed for
the three Rogation Days, and the fourth for The Perambulation of the
Parish, or Beating of the Bounds--a custom which has survived into our
own time. The parishioners walked along the outline of the parish,
taking {156} care that at least one of them passed through any
obstruction which was built, or erected, across the boundary. Thus, if
a cottage were so built, a boy would be passed though the door and
window of it. Trees at corners were marked with a hatchet: a note book
was preserved as a guide for the next perambulation. From this useful
and ancient ceremony, Rogation Days were called by the Anglo-Saxons
Beddagas=Prayer-days, or Gang-dagas=perambulation-days. Boundary
stones, dated May 4, 1837, are to be seen in the thickets of Buckland
Woods, Devon, showing that Ascension Day was chosen in that year for
the perambulation of Ashburton. More recently the perambulation of
Exeter has been performed on Ascension Day. The steps by which the
religious dedication of the year's work, at each centre of agricultural
industry, passed into a municipal ceremony accompanied by social
amenities, may be conjectured. It was still a religious
service--partly in the church and partly in the fields, in the time of
Queen Elizabeth, and much later.

Litanies, however, have ceased to be processions. They are not said
walking, but kneeling. The Litany is to be said at some different
place from the Morning Prayer: for, in the Commination it is ordered,
that part shall be said by the Minister in the Reading Pew, or Pulpit,
and the rest "in the place where they are accustomed to say the
Litany." Since this recognises an accustomed place, the kneeling desk
or fald-stool[4], placed "in front of the chancel door," or "in {157}
the midst of the Church" (Injunctions of Edw. VI.), appears to be
intended.

For the order to kneel to say the Litany, we must refer back to the
rubric at the head of the Collects in Morning Prayer, where the words,
all kneeling, were added in 1662 (see p. 130).

The place of the Faldstool may have been suggested by Joel ii. 17, Let
the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the
altar.





Next: Structure Of The Litany

Previous: Easter Eve Setting Of Magnificat



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