Litany of Loreto
Marian Litanies of the East
 

In the Eastern church litanies are always a part of the official liturgy, and they have at least three different forms: Synaptae (Collect), Ektenie ("intense" prayer of intercession and pardon based in part on Psalm 50) and Aitaesis (intercessory prayer for peace, pardon and protection).

Marian litanies are numerous in the East and may cover a multitude of themes, some dogmatic, others of moral and patriotic character. Here are some examples of Marian litanies: the "Epitaphian Threnos" remembering Mary's suffering on Good Friday (Symeon Metaphrastes, PG 114, 29); the dogmatic Canon of John Monachos Zonaras in honor of the "Panhagia Theotokos" (PG 135, 413-422); of more patriotic nature is the "Canon to the Mother of God in time of imminent war" (Euchologion 563-567, Beck 555,3) probably by John Mauropous. Finally, the intercessory "Canon to the Theotokos" by Euthymos Monachos Synkellos (Euchologion 232-237) highlights the confession of a sinner.


Litany (from the Greek Litaneia)

Litany is a series of short petitions and exhortations sung or said by the deacon or priest, and to which the people respond by the Kyrie eleison: Grant this, Lord: to Thee, Lord. The Litany originated in Antioch in the fourth century and from there was taken to Constantinople and through it to the rest of the East. Litanies by the deacon are common mostly in the Orthodox Liturgies expressing the devotion, petition, and thanksgiving of the congregation through the deacon who by rank stands closer to the people as laity than the other two ranks of priesthood, those of the priest and bishop. From Constantinople the Litany was taken to Rome and the West. Pope Gelasius I (492-96) introduced into the Mass an intercession of litanic character, the nine-fold Kyrie eleison which still survives.

[Rev. Nicon Archbishop Iakovos, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Americas, (Pleasantville, NY: Hellenic Heritage Publications, 1992), 232]

In the Eastern tradition of the Divine Liturgy services of St. Basil, St. Chrysostom and St. James (most well known), liturgical texts and hymns are interspersed with litanies. In other liturgical hymns, and liturgical rubrics for the Daily Hours, litanies are consistently used also. A paraklesis service (a liturgical service of petitions), combines many prayers of petition and thanksgiving; and Akathistos of the Theotokos (as well as akathistos of other saints) includes numerous litanies also. One can say that the "litany" is an ancient component of Christian prayer, incorporated into the Divine Liturgy, the liturgy of the Daily Hours (collected in a Service Book called the Menaion), and in special liturgical services to the Virgin Mary and saints.

- Virginia Kimball

 
Marian Litanies of the West
 

In the liturgy of the Western Church the word litany is derived from litania, meaning prayer of invocation or intercession. It also meant, up to the twelfth century, a procession with intercessory character, also known under the designation of rogation. Speaking of litanies in the classical sense, the Church has approved for official use the following ones: The Litanies of All Saints, probably the oldest, the Litanies of the Names of Jesus (1886), the Litanies of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1899), those in honor of Saint Joseph (1909) and the Precious Blood (1960) as well as the Litanies of Loreto.

These works were scanned and prepared by Mary Pop of the Society for the Preservation of Roman Catholic Heritage (SPORCH) in Dayton, Ohio.

 
The Litany of Loreto
 
The only thus approved Marian litany is that of Loreto. The Litanies of Loreto, so called because of their use in the sanctuary of Loreto since at least as far back as 1531, were officially approved in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V. Its origin is believed to be a medieval rimed litany (see Paris manuscript Nat. lat. 5267, fol., 80r) influenced by Eastern Marian devotion, in particular by the famous Hymnos Akathistos. Contrasting with the older Litany of All Saints, the Loreto Litanies are purely ad- or invocational litanies. As can be observed, for example, in the so called Officia Mariana, many more Marian litanies were and are in use but destined for private devotion.
 
Modern Advocations
 
The 1587 version of the Litany of Loreto was subsequently enriched with new advocations.
  1675 Queen of the most Holy Rosary (for the confraternities of the Holy Rosary).
  1950 Queen Assumed into Heaven (Pius XII)
  1883 Queen Conceived without Original Sin (Leo XIII for the whole church)
  1980 Mother of the Church (John Paul II)
  1903 Mother of Good Counsel (Leo XIII)
  1995 Queen of Families (John Paul II)
  1917 Queen of Peace (Benedict XV)
 
The Composition and Meaning of the Litany of Loreto
 

The Litanies of Loreto are structured as follows:

1. Mary's Holiness - Three introductory advocations highlight Mary's sanctity as person (Sancta Maria), her role as mother of Jesus Christ (Sancta Dei Genitrix), and her vocation as virgin (Sancta Virgo Virginum). Mary's sanctity is stressed.

2. Mary, the Mother - Twelve advocations refer to Mary as Mother. The purpose of this series of advocations is to highlight the various facets of Mary's role as mother. Some of these advocations, especially at the beginning (1-3) and at the end (11-12) of the series, are referring explicitly to her maternal activity and the addressees (Christ, the Church . . .) of this activity. Mary is:

(1) Mother of Christ (Mater Christi)
(2) Mother of the Church (Mater Ecclesiae)
(3) Mother of Divine Grace (Mater Divinae Gratiae)

And again, at the end of the series:

(11) Mother of our Creator (Mater Creatoris)
(12) Mother of our Savior (Mater Salvatoris)

The intermediate advocations (4-10) qualify or characterize the person of Mary as mother, mainly with adjectives:

(4) Mother Most Pure (Mater purissima)
(5) Mother Most Chaste (Mater castissima)
(6) Mother Inviolate (Mater inviolate)
(7) Mother Undefiled (Mater intemerata)
(8) Mother Most Amiable (Mater amabilis)
(9) Mother Most Admirable (Mater admirabilis)
(10)Mother of Good Counsel (Mater boni consilii)
[Mother of Fair Love (Mater pulchrae dilectionis)]

Mary attracts love and admiration, and she is of good counsel, but most of the characteristics mentioned (4-7) refer to the miraculous and virginal birth of Jesus.

3. Mary, the Virgin - The advocations of Mary Mother are followed by six titles extolling her as Virgin. They stress not only the merit of her virginity: Virgin Most Prudent (Virgo prudentissima), Virgin Most Venerable (Virgo veneranda), Virgin Most Renowned (Virgo praedicanda), but also the "efficacy" of virginity. Mary is : Virgin Most Powerful (Virgo potens), Virgin Most Merciful (Virgo clemens), and Virgin Most Faithful (Virgo fidelis).

4. Symbols of Mary - We then have thirteen symbolic advocations, mostly taken from the Old Testament and applied to Mary which highlight her virtues and her eminent role in salvation history:

(1) Mirror of Justice (Speculum justitiaé)
(2) Seat of Wisdom (Sedes sapientiae)
(3) Cause of Our Joy (Causa nostrae laetitiae)
(4) Spiritual Vessel (Vas spirituale)
(5) Vessel of Honor (Vas honorabile)
(6) Singular Vessel of Devotion (Vas insigne devotionis)
(7) Mystical Rose (Rosa mystica) (8) Tower of David (Turris davidica)
(9) Tower of Ivory (Turris eburnea)
(10) House of Gold (Domus aurea)
(11) Ark of the Covenant (Foederis arca)
(12) Gate of Heaven (Janua coeli)
(13) Morning Star (Stella matutina)

5. Mary, the Helper - The group of four advocations that follows extol Mary's role as advocate for spiritual and corporal works of mercy. She is:
(1) Health of the Sick (Salus infirmorum)
(2) Refuge of Sinners (Refugium peccatorum)
(3) Comforter of the Afflicted (Consolatrix afflictorum)
(4) Help of Christians (Auxilium christianorum)

6. Mary, the Queen - The last part of the Marian advocations is composed of a series of 13 titles referring to Mary as Queen. Mary is Queen of Saints and inhabitants of heaven:

(1) Queen of Angels (Regina Angelorum)
(2) Queen of Patriarchs (Regina Patriarcharum)
(3) Queen of Prophets (Regina Prophetarum)
(4) Queen of Apostles (Regina Apostolorum)
(5) Queen of Martyrs (Regina Martyrum)
(6) Queen of Confessors (Regina Confessorum)
(7) Queen of Virgins (Regina Virginum)
(8) Queen of all Saints (Regina Sanctorum omnium)

There are five advocations which emphasize the personal holiness, distinction, and role of Mary's queenship:

(09) Queen Conceived Without Original Sin (Regina sine macula originali concepta)
(10) Queen Assumed into Heaven (Regina in caelum assumpta)
(11) Queen of the Most Holy Rosary (Regina sacratissimi rosarii)
(12) Queen of Families (Regina familiarum)
(13) Queen of Peace (Regina pacis)

 
Illustrations and Explanations of the Litany of Loreto
 

The Marian Library has in its possession rare books of the eighteenth century with engravings by the renowned Augsburg artist, Josef Sebastian Klauber (ca. 1700-1768). The highly symbolic and illustrative reproductions are typical of the Baroque period. Their message is of great spiritual riches. Mary's profile is that of the exalted Mother, Virgin, and Queen, as suits the period. We limited ourselves to the illustrations of the Marian titles. The reader needs to keep in mind that the titles introduced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, obviously, are not included in Klauber's illustrations.

 
Illustrated and Commented Titles
 

You will find on the following pages the illustrations and commentaries of the various invocation beginning with Holy Mary and ending with Mirror of Justice, Speculum Justitiae.

Each one of these images and commentaries leads to more illustrations (see: additional illustrations) of the same title. These additional illustrations are part of an extensive collections of mainly French Holy Cards from the late 1900's and the first part of the twentieth century. The collection was compiled by Ms. Simone Mathieu, Bordeaux, France, and Ms. Marie Joly. The whole collection comprises twenty-seven binders of holy cards and was donated to The Marian Library in May 2002.

 

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This page, maintained by The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, Dayton, Ohio 45469-1390, and created by Kris Sommers , was last modified Friday, 06/14/2013 12:05:44 EDT by Ann Zlotnik . Please send any comments to jroten1@udayton.edu.