The Church’s Prayers Against Calamities

News: Commentary
by Anita Carey  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  May 28, 2019   

Minor Rogation Days precede the Ascension of Our Lord

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The Church prescribes periods of supplications to appease the anger of God and protect us from natural disasters.

A practice that has all but been lost to the Church's history are the Rogation days. Planned for twice during the liturgical year, the three days before the Church celebrates the Ascension of Our Lord are the Minor Rogation Days while April 25 has been assigned as the Major Rogation Day.

According to the traditional order of priests, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP):

The word "rogation" has its origins in the Latin word, rogare, which means to supplicate or ask, and the purpose of the Days is to beg God for His mercy, to turn away His anger, and to ask Him to bless the fruits of the earth while protecting us from natural disasters.

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Ember days are also three days of prayer and fasting but differ from the Rogation days in that they fall on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday during Advent, Lent, the week after Pentecost and in September — falling in line, approximately, with the cycles of farming and harvesting.

The objective of Ember days also differs in that they are prayers of thanksgiving for blessings of the past seasons and the supplications are for God's help to use the harvest well and for blessings in the season to come.

Leading up to this week's Minor Rogation Days, the Gospel reading from the fifth and last Sunday after Easter reminds us that all good things come by the merits of Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer.

John chapter 16 describes Jesus' words to His disciples, "Amen, amen, I say to you: If you ask the Father any thing in My name, He will give it to you."

The Gospel reading from the Mass of Rogation repeats this theme, with the reading coming from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 11, when Jesus tells His disciples, "And I say to you: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened."

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St. Gregory (Detail) by Matthias Stom

The Major Rogation Day is a Roman custom generally believed to have been prescribed by Pope St. Gregory the Great in the sixth century, regulating an existing custom that was purportedly transferred from a pagan custom.

The Minor Rogation Days are French in origin and were instituted by St. Mamertus, bishop of Vienne, in the fifth century.

The Golden Legend — Lives of the Saints, written by Jacobus de Voragine, provides a glimpse into the legends surrounding the practices.

According to Voragine, despite a good observance of Lent, the Romans fell into luxurious eating, drunkenness, watching immoral plays and lechery during Easter celebrations, "And therefore our Lord was moved against them, and sent to them a great pestilence, called the botche of impedimy."

The plague caused people to drop dead suddenly, "in playing, in being at table and in speaking one with another suddenly they died. In this manner sometimes sneezing they died."

The story attributes the origin of the custom crossing oneself and invoking God's blessing after a sneeze to this time.

The Minor Rogation Days started after a series of earthquakes destroyed several churches and houses in Vienne, France. On Easter Sunday, a fire "descended from Heaven" and burned the royal palace.

Later, it describes a horrific and almost unbelievable story, telling of "fiends" possessing wolves and other wild beasts — similar to the account in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter eight, when Jesus cast out demons who then entered into a herd of pigs. Instead of rushing headlong off a cliff like the pigs, these wolves and beasts ran about openly in cities and fields devouring women, children and old men.

It wasn't until St. Mamertus ordered three days of fasting and recitation of the Litany of the Saints did the sufferings stop.

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Blessing of the Wheat Fields in Artois, (Detail) by Jules Breton

Pope St. Leo III promulgated the Rogation days throughout the Roman Church in 816, the same year he died.

The Rogation days' celebrations consist of a procession and a Rogation Mass. The Litany of the Saints was chanted, with each verse and response sung twice, while the procession followed the borders of the parish. The priest would bless the fields and other natural features of the landscape during the litany.

Penetential or gradual psalms can be added, and the litany can be repeated if needed. Such was the importance of these prayers that all priests and religious who could not attend the procession were ordered to pray the Litany of the Saints.

According to the Roman Breviary, "All persons bound to recite the Office, and who are not present at the procession, are bound to recite the Litany, nor can it be anticipated."

The collect for the Mass of Rogation perfectly showcases the Church's theme for the Rogation days: "Grant, we beseech Thee, O almighty God, that we, who in our affliction put our trust in Thy Mercy, may ever be defended by Thy protection against all adversity. Through our Lord."

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