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 th
ice 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


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


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