Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Little Background on the Lutheran/Reformed use of the Litany

I did a bit of research for the perseverance podcast and found this web article:

In the first period of the Wittenberg Reformation processions and litanies were retained, although they were discarded by 1525. Four years later, however, a revised litany was restored in Evangelical worship by Luther himself, the immediate occasion being a threatened invasion of the Turks. He evidently published a separate German version of this litany, although no copy of this edition is known to be extant, but there is no ground for assuming that he issued the Latin text of it as he proposed to do. The German litany was also appended to the third edition of his smaller catechism, but was later omitted, although it then found its way into the hymnals, doubtless with its author's approval. The Latin version, in like manner, was almost certainly contained in the hymnal of Klug published in 1529 and no longer extant. It may well have included the German version as well, like the later editions of the work and a number of other hymnals of the same period. The extension of the litany through middle and north Germany by means of the hymn-books was rapid, but it was comparatively rarely found, on the other hand, in southern or southwestern German hymnody. There, however, it was spread by the church orders, the more important ones all containing it. The original Lutheran litany was closely similar to, the Roman Catholic Litany of the Saints, except that all invocations of the saints, as well as petitions for the pope and the dead, were omitted. On the other hand, the petitions are more specialized and more concrete than in the older litany, which is, nevertheless, far the richer.
In the northern and central parts of Germany no uniformity whatever prevailed in the time of the recitation of the litany. Wednesday and Friday were, on the whole, the favorite days, although it might also be recited on Tuesday, Sunday festivals, and at vespers on Saturday. Local usage in many cases prescribed it for special days, while numerous church orders required it to be said occasionally, although no special day was designated. The place which the litany occupied in the North and Middle German liturgy likewise varied. It might be recited alone, either in the morning or the evening, after the lesson, epistle, or sermon, and before or during the communion. An equal lack of uniformity prevailed in southern and southwestern Germany, but there the litany, in harmony with the intention of Luther, retained its original character of a penitential prayer more than in the north, so that in Strasburg it followed the confession and absolution. The litany was subject, furthermore, to numerous local modifications, petitions being inserted or omitted practically at pleasure.
In Wittenberg the German litany was chanted by the choir-boys, while the congregation sang the responses, although ultimately one part of the choir chanted the petitions and the other responded. The Latin litany was sung only in the latter fashion. In the seventeenth century the Latin litany was discarded altogether, and in case there was a trained choir, the pastor, kneeling or standing with his face toward the altar, intoned the petition, while the congregation, led by the choir, sang the responses. If for any reason the litany was not sung, it might be recited or read. These modes of repeating the litany gradually supplanted the singing of it, but on the whole, though it is still retained in almost all modern German liturgies, it has lost its hold in great measure on the congregations because of its monotony.
The Reformed Church had little sympathy with the litany, and rejected it almost without exception, so that wherever Calvinism gained supremacy over Lutheranism, the litany was abolished.
The Moravians have two litanies, the "Church Litany " and the "Litany of the Life, Passion, and Death of Jesus Christ." The former is used in a double form, a shorter version having been made in 1873, while the latter is derived from the "Litany of Wounds" composed by Zinzendorf in 1744.
The litany of the English Book of Common Prayer was originally intended to be a distinct office. A rubric in the first prayer-book (1549) ordered it to be said on Wednesdays and Fridays, before the communion-office. It was then placed after the communion-office, and in 1552 put in the place it now occupies, with the direction that it was to be "used upon Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and at other times when it shall be commanded by the ordinary." The clause in Edward's prayerbook, "From the tyranny of the Bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities," was omitted in 1559.


Anonymous said...

After following your link and reading the interesting info on the litany, especially part 2, I say hooray for the Calvinists for abolishing something that was not used by the earliest churches and probably had pagan origins.

Sign me "Anon"......just dropping by to bother you again.

God bless your day.

Jim Roemke said...

I was beginning to miss you! So, are Christians not to use anything that the early church did not use? Are we not to use anything that could have a checkered background? Do you like Christmas? How about Easter? I love them both, but they were not handed directly from God to man. The Litany in the Lutheran Service Book is a beautiful prayer of the Church. Granted, anything beautiful can be made ugly by sin and idolatry. Prayers to saints in any form is a sin and breaks the first commandment. I will not mince words about that.

The problem with Calvinists and other "reformed" Christians is that they have replaced one set of laws with another. They are iconoclasts who seek for something that is not to be found this side of heaven: a totally pure and perfect church.

Lutherans know that that is impossible. We take the good from the bad, we truly reform and are formed by God's Word. I would encourage you to check out the Litany in the Lutheran Service Book (I would post it, but I fear the copyright storm-troopers!!)

BTW, thanks again for that poem you posted in one of the comments, I put it in my parishes weekly newsletter!

The Lord be with you!