May 18th, 19th, & 20th, 2020: ROGATION DAY (Lesser Litanies)
May 18th, 19th, & 20th, 2020: ROGATION DAY
Arise, O Lord, help us, and deliver us, for the glory of thy Name, alleluia. We have heard, O God, with our ears: our Fathers have told it unto us.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we, who in our afflictions, rely on thy goodness, may, under thy protection, be defended against all adversities. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
The three days immediately following the Fifth Sunday after Easter, are called Rogation-Days, from the public and solemn rogations, or prayers, that are offered on those days to Almighty God, in order to turn away his wrath and indignation, which we have so justly deserved for our sins. They were instituted in the fifth century by St. Mamertus, Bishop of Vienne in France, when his Diocese was afflicted, in the most terrible manner, by almost continual earthquakes, incursions of wild beasts, fire, &c. and that saint experienced such happy effects of the public supplications he had appointed, by those calamities ceasing, that the same pious custom, by degrees, extended itself all over the Western Church; and, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the long litany is sung in solemn Procession. To comply, therefore, with the spirit of the Church, it would be proper that this devotion should be performed… that Almighty God, being appeased by the prayers and abstinence of his Church, may not inflict on us those punishments, we but too justly deserve for our sins.
What we are chiefly to ask of God on these days is the remission of our sins, which are the only true evil, and the cause of all the chastisements which we suffer, or have reason to fear. We must secondly beg that God avert from us all scourges and calamities which our crimes deserve, and that he bestow his blessing on the fruits of the earth.
It seems strange that there should be anything like mourning during Paschal Time: and yet these three days are days of penance. A moment's reflection, however, will show us that the institution of the Rogation Days is a most appropriate one. True, our Saviour told us, before his Passion, that the children of the Bridegroom should not fast whilst the Bridegroom is with them (St. Luke, v. 34): but is not sadness in keeping with these the last hours of Jesus' presence on earth? Were not his Mother and Disciples oppressed with grief at the thought of their having so soon to lose Him, whose company had been to them a foretaste of heaven?
Let us see how the Liturgical Year came to have inserted in its Calendar these three days, during which Holy Church, though radiant with the joy of Easter, seems to go back to her Lenten observances. The Holy Ghost, who guides her in all things, willed that this completion of her Paschal Liturgy should owe its origin to a devotion peculiar to one of the most illustrious and venerable Churches of southern Gaul: it was the Church of Vienne.
The second half of the 5th century had but just commenced, when the country round Vienne, which had been recently conquered by the Burgundians, was visited with calamities of every kind. The people were struck with fear at these indications of God's anger. St. Mamertus, who, at the time, was Bishop of Vienne, prescribed three days' public expiation, during which the Faithful were to devote themselves to penance, and walk in procession chanting appropriate Psalms. The three days preceding the Ascension were the ones chosen. Unknown to himself, the holy Bishop was thus instituting a practice, which was afterwards to form part of the Liturgy of the universal Church.
The Churches of Gaul, as might naturally be expected, were the first to adopt the devotion. St. Alcimus Avitus, who was one of the earliest successors of St. Mamertus in the See of Vienne, informs us that the custom of keeping the Rogation Days was, at that time, firmly established in his Diocese. St. Cæsarius of Arles, who lived in the early part of the 6th century, speaks of their being observed in countries afar off; by which he meant, at the very least, to designate all that portion of Gaul which was under the Visigoths. That the whole of Gaul soon adopted the custom, is evident from the Canons drawn up at the first Council of Orleans, held in 511, and which represented all the Provinces that were in allegiance to Clovis. The regulations, made by the Council regarding the Rogations, give us a great idea of the importance attached to their observance. Not only abstinence from flesh-meat, but even fasting, is made of obligation. Masters are also required to dispense their servants from work, in order that they may assist at the long functions which fill up almost the whole of these three days. In 567, the Council of Tours, likewise, imposed the precept of fasting during the Rogation Days; and as to the obligation of resting from servile work, we find it recognised in the Capitularia of Charlemagne and Charles the Bald.
The main part of the Rogation rite originally consisted, (at least in Gaul,) in singing canticles of supplication whilst passing from place to place,—and hence the word Procession. We learn from St. Cæsarius of Arles, that each day's Procession lasted six hours; and that when the Clergy became tired, the women took up the chanting. The Faithful of those days had not made the discovery, which was reserved for modern times, that one requisite for religious Processions is that they be as short as possible.
The Procession for the Rogation Days was preceded by the Faithful receiving the Ashes upon their heads, as now at the beginning of Lent; they were then sprinkled with Holy Water, and the Procession began. It was made up of the Clergy and people of several of the smaller parishes, who were headed by the Cross of the principal Church, which conducted the whole ceremony. All walked bare-foot, singing the Litany, Psalms and Antiphons. They entered the Churches that lay on their route, and sang an Antiphon or Responsory appropriate to each.
Such was the original ceremony of the Rogation Days, and it was thus observed for, a very long period. The Monk of St. Gall's, who has left us so many interesting details regarding the life of Charlemagne, tells us that this holy Emperor used to join the Processions of these three Days, and walk barefooted from his palace to the Stational Church. We find St. Elizabeth of Hungary, in the 14th century, setting the like example: during the Rogation Days, she used to mingle with the poorest women of the place, and walked bare-footed, wearing a dress of coarse stuff. St. Charles Borromeo, who restored in his Diocese of Milan so many ancient practices of piety, was sure not to be indifferent about the Rogation Days. He spared neither word nor example to reanimate this salutary devotion among his people. He ordered fasting to be observed during these three Days; he fasted himself on bread and water. The Procession, in which all the Clergy of the City were obliged to join, and which began after the sprinkling of Ashes, started from the Cathedral at an early hour in the morning, and was not over till three or four o'clock in the afternoon. Thirteen Churches were visited on the Monday; nine, on the Tuesday; and eleven, on the Wednesday. The saintly Archbishop celebrated Mass and preached in one of these Churches.
If we compare the indifference shown by the Catholics of the present age, for the Rogation Days, with the devotion wherewith our ancestors kept them, we cannot but acknowledge that there is a great falling off in faith and piety. Knowing, as we do, the importance attached to these Processions by the Church, we cannot help wondering how it is that there are so few among the Faithful who assist at them. Our surprise increases when we find persons preferring their own private devotions to these public Prayers of the Church, which to say nothing of the result of good example, merit far greater graces than any exercises of our own fancying.
The whole Western Church soon adopted the Rogation Days. They were introduced into England at an early period; so, likewise, into Spain, and Germany. Rome herself sanctioned them by her own observing them; this she did in the 8th century, during the Pontificate of St. Leo the Third. She gave them the name of the Lesser Litanies, in contradistinction to the Procession of the 25th of April, which she calls the Greater Litanies. With regard to the Fast which the Churches of Gaul observed during the Rogation Days, Rome did not adopt that part of the institution. Fasting seemed to her to throw a gloom over the joyous forty days, which our Risen Jesus grants to his Disciples; she therefore enjoined only abstinence from flesh-meat during the Rogation Days. The Church of Milan, which, as we have just seen, so strictly observes the Rogations, keeps them on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday after the Sunday within the Octave of the Ascension, that is to say, after the forty days devoted to the celebration of the Resurrection.
If, then, we would have a correct idea of the Rogation Days, we must consider them as Rome does,—that is, as a holy institution which, without interrupting our Paschal joy, tempers it. The purple vestments used during the Procession and Mass do not signify that our Jesus has fled from us, but that the time for his departure is approaching. By prescribing Abstinence for these three days, the Church would express how much she will feel the loss of her Spouse, who is so soon to be taken from her.
In England, as in many other countries, abstinence is no longer of obligation for the Rogation Days. This should be an additional motive to induce the Faithful to assist at the Processions and Litanies, and, by their fervently uniting in the prayers of the Church, to make some compensation for the abolition of the law of Abstinence. We need so much penance, and we take so little! If we are truly in earnest, we shall be most fervent in doing the little that is left us to do.
The object of the Rogation Days is to appease the anger of God, and avert the chastisements which the sins of the world so justly deserve; moreover, to draw down the divine blessing on the fruits of the earth. The Litany of the Saints is sung during the Procession, which is followed by a special Mass said in the Stational Church, or, if there be no Station appointed, in the Church whence the Procession first started.
The Litany of the Saints is one of the most efficacious of prayers. The Church makes use of it on all solemn occasions, as a means for rendering God propitious through the intercession of the whole court of heaven. They who are prevented from assisting at the Procession, should recite the Litany in union with holy Church: they will thus share in the graces attached to the Rogation Days; they will be joining in the supplications now being made throughout the entire world; they will be proving themselves to be Catholics.
The holy Church marshals her children in procession, and makes a solemn appeal to the divine mercy. Let us follow her sacred standard, and join her in invoking the intercession of the Saints. The Litany, in which we pray to all the choirs of the heavenly Jerusalem, is both a magnificent and a powerful prayer: it is the Church Triumphant uniting with the Church Militant in praying for the salvation of the world.
O Mary! Mother of God, Virgin of virgins, miracle of divine power, exercise, in our favour, thy maternal mediation with Him, who, though God, is thy Son!
Michael, the invincible, Gabriel, welcome messenger of our salvation, Raphael, affectionate physician of them that are suffering; Angels and Archangels, who watch over us, and co-operate in the work of our salvation; all ye choirs of blessed Spirits, who are waiting for your ranks to be filled up by the elect of earth;—intercede for your brethren, your clients!
John the Baptist, Precursor of the Lamb of God; Joseph, Spouse of Mary Immaculate, and foster-father of the Son of God; Patriarchs, the glorious forefathers of the human race, and ancestors of the Messias; Prophets, who foretold his coming, and described the events of his life, that so the earth might recognise him as its promised Redeemer; remember us who are living in this exile, through which you also passed!
Peter, universal Pastor, that holdest the keys of the kingdom of heaven; Paul, Apostle of the Gentiles, armed with the sword of the word, and immolated by the sword of Martyrdom; Andrew, crucified like thy Master; James the Greater, son of thunder, founder of the “Catholic Kingdom;” John, the Beloved Disciple, the adopted son and guardian of Mary, Evangelist and Prophet; Thomas, Apostle of the Indies, pierced to death by a spear; James the Less, surnamed “the Brother of the Lord;” Philip, who didst preach the Gospel to the Scythians, and wast crucified at Hierapolis; Bartholomew, the teacher and martyr of Armenia; Matthew, the Evangelist, who didst carry the faith into the scorching regions of Ethiopia; Simon, by whose zeal Mesopotamia was led to the knowledge of Christ; Thaddeus, the courageous destroyer of the idols of Egypt; Matthias, chosen to fill up the place of the Traitor Judas, and well worthy of the honour; Barnabas, Paul's companion, and the light of the isle of Cyprus; Luke, disciple of the Apostle of the Gentiles, and historian of the Incarnate Word; Mark, disciple of Peter, under whose direction thou wrotest the Gospel of salvation;—we devoutly honour you as our Fathers in the Faith; pray for and with us!
Disciples of our Lord, who, though not raised to the rank of Apostles, were chosen by him to be their fellow-labourers, and who, on the Day of Pentecost, were filled with the Holy Ghost; dear Innocents of Bethlehem, first-fruits of the Martyrs;—deign to join us in our supplications!
Stephen the Crowned, Laurence the brave and cheerful winner of immortal laurels, Vincent the Victorious,—the glorious triumvirate of Deacons; Fabian, Pontiff designated by a dove sent from heaven; Sebastian, dauntless soldier of holy Church; John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, Gervasius and Protasius, Brothers by nature and martyrdom; oh! all ye holy Martyrs, protect us under the shadow of your palms!
Sylvester, Pontiff of Peace; Gregory, Vicar both of the meekness and authority of Christ; Ambrose, whose eloquence was sweet as honey, and whose courage was as that of a lion; Augustine, Doctor of Doctors, and apostle of divine charity; Jerome, inspired interpreter of the Scriptures; Martin, Thaumaturgus of the West, and Nicholas, wonder-worker in the East; holy Pontiffs, holy Doctors of the Church, lead back to Christ all his sheep that are gone astray!
Antony, the glory of the desert, and the conqueror of Satan; Benedict, the Abraham of the New Testament, whose children are countless as the stars of heaven; Bernard, pillar of the Church, and favourite of the Mother of God; Dominic, Preacher of divine truth, and scourge of heresy; Francis, friend and spouse of poverty, crucified together with Christ;—we honor you all; enkindle within our souls the desire of Christian perfection!
Priests of the Lord; holy Monks, and Hermits, and Confessors;—pray for us who implore your aid! Mary Magdalene, once a sinner, but afterwards a Saint; whose devotedness to Jesus was so generous and fervent; obtain for us that compunction of heart, which makes amends for sin by love!
Agatha and Lucy, beautiful flowers of fair Sicily; Agnes, who followest the Lamb whithersoever he goeth; Cecily, wreathed with thy roses and lilies, and queen of sweet melody; Catharine, the wise virgin that confoundedst the false wisdom of philosophers; Anastasia, the valiant woman that didst triumph over the trials of life and the severity of tortures; oh! all ye holy Virgins, Spouses of Jesus, look with compassion on us who are dwelling in this land of exile!
All ye holy men and women, Saints of God, who now reign in heaven above, think of us your brethren, who mourn in this vale of tears. We, too, are created for eternal happiness; and yet the vanities of time engross our thoughts and affections. Make intercession for us, that, henceforth, we may walk worthy of God, who hath called us unto his kingdom and glory!
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - The Paschal Time, Vol. III, Dublin, Edition 1871; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
He hath graciously heard my voice from his holy temple, alleluia: and my cry before him came into his ears. Alleluia, alleluia.