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Exhortation and Litany

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The Exhortation and Litany, published in 1544, is the earliest officially authorized vernacular service in English (TC:328). The same rite survives, in modified form, in the Book of Common Prayer (E&L).


At that time, the term litany had a specific technical sense and denoted a penitential service in procession used in time of trouble or in a spirit of sorrow for sins committed (TC:330). It consisted chiefly of very short intercessory phrases said by the priest and a brief standard response from the choir or congregation. On August 20, 1543, Henry VIII had ordered "general rogations and processions to be made" on account of the multiple troubles England was experiencing, but public response was slack. This was attributed in part to the fact that the people did not understand what was being said and sung (P&F:31–32). Therefore, an English version was composed by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, for use in the processions ordered by Henry when England was simultaneously at war with both Scotland and France (ODCC).


For the litany, Cranmer drew heavily on both traditional and recent sources ranging from John Chrysostom to Martin Luther, the bulk of the material coming from the Sarum Rite. Much of the work of synthesizing these sources was originally done by William Marshall in his Lutheran-oriented Goodly Primer of 1535 (TC:328). Cranmer also changed the rhythm of the service by grouping the intercessory phrases in blocks with but a single response to the group (ODCC).

The litany was published in the midst of the English Reformation and shows clear signs of Protestant influence. Protestants disliked the traditional litany's veneration of saints (TC:328). In Cranmer's litany, the traditional invocations of the saints were heavily reduced and only Mary, the mother of Jesus, was mentioned by name (P&F:414). In all, Cranmer's revision reduced what had once been the major part of the litany into just three petitions.(ED:443) The litany was prefaced with an "Exhortation to Prayer", which was a homily-styled discourse on the nature of prayer.(TC:330)

See alsoEdit


  • Duffy, Eamon (2005) [1992]. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c. 1400 – c. 1580 (2nd ed.). Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10828-6.
  • MacCulloch, Diarmaid (2016) [1996]. Thomas Cranmer: A Life (Revised ed.). London: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-06688-3.
  • Procter, Francis; Frere, Walter Howard (1908). A New History of the Book of Common Prayer. MacMillan.
  • Cross, F.L.; Livingstone, E.A., eds. (1974), The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, OUP.
  • Wohlers, Charles (ed.), Exhortation and Litany (1544).

External linksEdit

  • Litany (1544) – Complete text with musical annotations and modernised spelling.