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date: 10 December 2019

Litany (from Lat. litania, letania; Gk. litaneia, from litē: ‘prayer’)locked

  • Michel Huglo,
  • Edward Foley,
  • John Harper
  •  and David Nutter


(from Lat. litania, letania; Gk. litaneia, from litē: ‘prayer’)

A prayer form, usually characterized by the announcement of varying invocations (e.g. names of deities or saints) or supplications (Lat. deprecationes, preces etc.) by a leader, each of which is followed by a fixed congregational response. This genre may be distinguished from other responsorial forms by the relative brevity, sometimes parity, of the call and response elements, giving it something of an insistent quality. Often quite rhythmic, litanies frequently accompany processions. Thus the term can signify the procession itself or the day upon which the procession occurs.

Michel Huglo, revised by Edward Foley

No generic term exists in biblical Hebrew for ‘litany’, and the two occurrences of the Greek ‘litaneia’ in the Septuagint (2 Maccabees iii.20, x.16) are not references to this prayer genre. It is nevertheless possible to identify litanic patterns in the Old Testament, for example in Psalm cxxxvi and Daniel iii.52–90. Notable extra-biblical litanies include the ...

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