Monday, May 30, 2011

Three Curious Litanies for Rogation Days in the Old Use of Paris

Petite, et accipietis:
quærite, et invenietis:
pulsate, et aperietur vobis.

As everyone knows, the rogations are processions of supplication and penitence first instituted in Gaul by St. Mamert, bishop of Vienna, around 470. The success of these processions was immediate in then fledgling France, since the Council of Orleans -- held in 511 by King Clovis -- described them in its 27th and 28th canons as an already well-established institution:

27. Rogationes, id est Lætanias, ante Ascensionem Domini ab omnibus ecclesiis placuit celebrari, ita ut præmissum triduanum jejunium in Dominicæ Ascensionis festivitate solvatur; per quod triduum servi et ancillæ ab omni opere relaxentur, quo magis plebs universa conveniat. Quo triduo omnis abstineant et quadraginsimalibus cibis utantur.27. It seemed good that the Rogation, that is to say the Litanies, are to be celebrated by all churches before the Ascension of the Lord, that during these three days the maids & servants are exempt from any work, so that the more people meet in full. During these three days, may everyone do abstinence and use food of Lent.
28. Clerici vero qui ad hoc opus sanctum adesse contemserint, secundum arbitrium episcopi ecclesiæ suscipiant disciplinam.28. As for clerics who would scorn to be present at this sacred ceremony, they undergo an ecclesiastical penalty to the discretion of the bishop.

Note the equivalence established by the Council of Orleans between the two terms Rogation and Litanies. These prayers of request (rogare: to ask) have taken the form of litanies since the advent of these processions in Gaul. Certainly, as evidenced by the medieval manuscripts and printed editions of processionals, psalms and antiphons were also sung in France during these processions, but the heart of the prayers used to beg God for our necessities and which struck the popular mind most were the litanies. The same semantic equivalence has persisted from 511 A.D. to our own time in the Roman rite - which has had the Rogation days since the time of Pope St. Leo III († 816) -- for here they are also referred to as the Lesser Litanies. In the Roman liturgy, the liturgical form of the processions of the Lesser Litanies is exactly the same as that which takes place on April 25 for the feast of St. Mark, the Greater Litanies, instituted by St. Gregory the Great. In France, however, various dioceses in their own ancient liturgical books used a wide variety of specific pieces for these three Rogation days instead: psalms, stations, antiphons, responsories, but also many different litanies; generally, all pieces changed on each of the three days.

The litanies formerly used in France for rogation days could be grouped into three main types:

1. The oldest type are the diaconal litanies which are close to litanies of the Byzantine liturgy, found also in the litanies of the Ambrosian rite during Lent. In Gaul, this is represented mainly by the litany said "of St. Martin", which is probably the oldest. This litany starts with V/. Dicamus omnes. R/. Domine miserere. V/. Ex toto corde, and ex tota mente, adoramus te. R/. Domine miserere , etc... At each invocation, the people respond "Kyrie eleison" or "Domine miserere." These litanies do not invoke the saints, but beg God for various practical needs. They are the most venerable part of the French liturgical repertoire, dating from the time of the antique rite of Gaul, and they survived in some French dioceses until the nineteenth century.

2. A second type of litany in use in France in the Middle Ages was quite similar to the litany of the saints that we know today in the Roman rite. After the initial Kyrie and invocations to the three divine Persons, the Virgin Mary and the saints are invoked. Often, these litanies do not include the invocations the Roman rite added after the list of saints. We could compare these litanies of saints to similar invocations to the saints found within Byzantine Compline. It is likely that this kind of litany goes back to the Carolingian period.

3. A third type appears to have originally been in favour in the South of France but, thanks to the neo-Gallican liturgical reformists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they knew a great revival of interest and were widely diffused. Invocations to the saints are mixed with short supplications to God. The archetype is the litany Aufer a nobis that the musicologist Amedee Gastoué described as an antique litany from Narbonese Gaul, and which has been often reprinted during the twentieth century (this litany Aufer a nobis is used in Paris for the third day, as we will see below). It is likely that this type is a form which comes from the Mozarabic liturgy, which was synthesized in Gaul with the Litany of the Saints of the aforementioned type.

The use of Paris in the Middle Ages sang many antiphons, verses, collects and litanies of the saints according to the second type for the rogation days. Thus, according to this Parisian Missal from the thirteenth century (folio 251 V°) in its rogation litany, Paris invoked the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the three main Archangels, St. John the Baptist, the Apostles and Evangelists, 91 Martyrs, 51 Confessors and 41 Virgins.

After a forced Romanization of their rite in the early seventeenth century, Parisian liturgists of the seventeenth and eighteenth century sought out in the ancient traditions of the Churches of France what should be honoured; they assigned to the three rogation days three litanies of ancient tradition coming from the South of France. These litanies belong to the third type listed above, and thus are a hybrid of the Mozarabic invocations and the Carolingian litanies of the saints.

We show these below for the three days, taken from this beautiful edition:

Office de l'Eglise noté pour les festes et dimanches, à l'usage des Laïcs, par ordre de Monseigneur l'Archevêque. IVème partie, le Temps paschal, Paris, Libraires associés, 1760. Pages 67-72, 78-79 and 86-88.

Here is how the rogation were organized in Paris: an initial procession would go from one church to another (from the church of the collecta to the church of the statio), accompanied by the singing of the Gradual psalms with prolix antiphons. At the stational church, the Mass is sung and then the procession would proceed back to the first church with the singing of the litany. All is ended by the singing of the antiphon of the saint to whom is the church is dedicated, with their verse and collect. (It is also the common usage that when the procession stops at a chapel or a church, the antiphon, verse and collect of its owner are always sung).

Nowadays at St. Eugene, we of course sing the rogation days according to the Roman rite, with the Litany of the Saints before the Mass. However, at the end of the Mass, when the procession returns to the sacristy, we used to sing these ancient litanies, which are not without musical beauty (far from it), and which recall the historic diversity of expression of the Faith in our country.

Here are these three curious litanies. Please click on the images to get more complete ones.

Litany for the first day:

Litany for the second day:

Litany for the third day

Here are some principles governing these litanies:

- Litanies are conceived as a dialogue between two children (or two clerics) and the choir.

- When the rubrics mention "cadence", this is the way Parisians cantors indicated -- since the Middle Ages -- that they have finished singing and that the choir is about to. This is reflected by changing the last notes of the melody (the process is known, according to the case, as perielesis or diaptosis). Please compare, for example, the Christe audi nos of the children and that of the choir in the first litany.

- According to the oldest usage, the vertical bars here are not to indicate the breathing of the singers but rather the distinction of the words -- breathing should be inferred from the punctuation.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: