We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

The Great Litany

We will not offer this service but it is important part of our Anglican history

Litanies are a very old form of prayer in worship:

The word litany comes from the Latin litania, from the Greek λιτή (litê), meaning "prayer" or "supplication"….The frequent repetition of the Kyrie was probably the original form of the Litany, and was in use in Asia and in Rome at a very early date. The Council of Vaison in 529 passed the decree: "Let that beautiful custom of all the provinces of the East and of Italy be kept up, viz., that of singing with great effect and compunction the ‘Kyrie Eleison’ at Mass, Matins, and Vespers, because so sweet and pleasing a chant, even though continued day and night without interruption, could never produce disgust or weariness".

The Litany was the first prayer developed in the English language:

The Great Litany is said to be the first prayer composed in the English language (i.e. not an English translation from another language) for use in public worship. It is used in Anglican worship at various times and seasons, but is probably most frequently experienced during the season of Lent because of its distinctly penitential nature. In many churches, it is chanted in procession around the perimeter of the worship space.

The Litany was was prepared by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. It was first published in 1544. Cranmer modified an earlier litany form by consolidating certain groups of petitions into single prayers with response.  

The Litany was an intercessory prayer including various petitions that are said or sung by the leader, with fixed responses by the congregation. It was used as early as the fifth century in Rome. It was led by a deacon, with the collects led by a bishop or priest.  

In the Great Litany, nearly every general area of prayer is addressed including prayer for various aspects of the church, the world, the government, and the poor. These petitions are prefaced by a series of requests asking God to deliver us from all manner of afflictions: evil, sin, heresy, schism, natural disasters, political disasters, violence, death, etc.

The Litany’s use in church processions was ordered by Henry VIII   when England was at war with Scotland and France.  It was printed as an appendix to the eucharist in the 1549 BCP [Book of Common Prayer]. The Litany was used in each of the three ordination rites of the 1550 ordinal, with a special petition and concluding collect.

Henry VIII commissioned Cranmer to write the Litany because at the time it was the practice for litanies to be offered in procession through public neighborhoods. Henry was disappointed that people were not responding and joining in the prayers. He keenly perceived that this was because the people “understode no parte of suche prayers or suffrages as were used to be songe and sayde.” He accordingly decreed that a litany be written in English.

The 1552 BCP called for use of the Litany after the fixed collects of Morning Prayer on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The 1928 BCP allowed the Litany to be used after the fixed collects of Morning or Evening Prayer, or before the Eucharist, or separately. The 1928 BCP included a short Litany for Ordinations as an alternative to the Litany.

 The 1979 BCP titled this Litany "The Great Litany" (p. 148), distinguishing it from other litanies in the Prayer Book. The Great Litany may be said or sung. The officiant and people may kneel or stand, or it may be done in procession. The Great Litany may be done before the Eucharist, or after the collects of Morning or Evening Prayer, or separately. Because of its penitential tone, it is especially appropriate during Lent. The Great Litany includes an invocation of the Trinity; a series of deprecations which seek deliverance from evil, spiritual harm, and natural calamities; a series of obsecrations which plead the power of Christ’s Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection for deliverance; prayers of general intercession.

The Great Litany in the Book of Common Prayer