The Litanies are forms of prayer, addressed to the Saints or to the Madonna, based on the reiteration of short phrases of praise, which provide for the responsorial intervention of an officiator and a chorus. The Litany has been documented since the early centuries of Christianity, even if already present as a responsorial formula in the pagan rites and in the acclamations on the occasion of the election to civil or religious posts. In the East the response formula was until the 4th century invariably the Kyrie eleison and, with its subsequent adoption in the West, it itself became the synonym of Litany.


In the Middle Ages, after the unification of the rites had reduced the number of types of Litanies overall in use in the countries of Christian religion, the Litanies continued to multiply owing to the broad popular participation in the rites, the high number of processions that were held and the variety of the occasions, often of local interest, in which they took place. Thus the Lauretan litanies were born, in honour of the Virgin Mary, originating from Loreto, those of the Sacred Name of Jesus and others still in use in the matins and evensong.


As regards the texts, all of the Litanies started with the Kyrie eleison and ended with the Agnus Dei. The response formulas are rather varied, ranging from Kyrie eleison; Christe Eleison; Christe audi nos; Christe exaudi nos to Parce nobis, Domine; Exaudi nos, Domine; Libera nos, Domine to the Ora pro nobis and the Miserere nobis.


As regards their musical structure the Litanies are made up of short monodic phrases, essentially syllabic.

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