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A form of prayer, consisting of a series of petitions or biddings which are sung or said by a priest, deacon, or leader, and to which the people make fixed responses.
Litanies have a definite structure: first the invocation of the persons of the Trinity, then the petitions corresponding to a distinctive theme, followed by three invocations of the Lamb of God, and closing with a short prayer that summarizes the petitions made.
Since the Second Vatican Council, theses litanies have been formally indulgenced, i.e., a partial indulgence for every recitation: the Holy Name, the Sacred Heart, the Precious Blood, the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, and the saints. Other litanies, approved for use by the faithful but not thus indulgenced, number over a hundred.
In the Eastern Rites, litanies are an outstanding feature of the Eucharistic liturgy, and in the Ambrosian Rite are sung every Sunday during Lent in place of the Gloria. (Etym. Latin litania; from Greek litanei_, prayer, entreaty, supplication.)
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.