Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

A Peace Not Given by the World: on the Ascension Rogation Days

Liturgically speaking, the three days leading up to Ascension Thursday are designated as Rogation Days. For many Catholics, this practice will be unfamiliar. The truth of the matter is, however, that even the reformed liturgical books of 1970 envisioned the continuation of the practice, though the dates were to be established by the episcopal conferences.[1] The origin of the practice outside of Rome dates from sometime around the fifth century, though Rogation Days were not introduced into Roman practice until about the ninth century. Since these times, however, the practice has been observed with varying degrees of fervor, sometimes waxing strong and sometimes waning; our time is no different. Unfortunate that they have been neglected, indeed—though Catholics who observe the traditional liturgical books of 1962 are able, here and there, to witness a quiet but real recovery.

A visit to a basic Latin dictionary tells us just about all we need to know about the purpose of Rogation Days. The Latin verb rogare means to ask. Thus, our Rogation Days are times to ask.

The Litany of the Saints, with the traditional prayers that follow it, forms part of the prayers for a Rogation Day procession. (Priests obliged to recite the Divine Office are, on certain Rogation Days, also obliged to say the Litany with its prayers, even if they do not participate in a procession.) One of the concluding prayers of the Litany reads thus:

O God, from whom are all holy desires, all upright counsels, and all just works: give to your servants that peace which the world cannot give; so that, with our hearts given over to your commands and raised up from the dread of our enemies, our times, under your protection, might be made tranquil.[2]

That is a prayer for our times; in fact, for all times.—The Church is the infallible interpreter of the human condition. If we have forgotten that we are beset by enemies and dangers, recent times have reminded us. If we have forgotten the real source of all good, recent times have reminded us. If we have forgotten our true posture before the good and just God, recent times have reminded us.

But Mother Church steps in with her liturgy to remind us that danger is not the only reality. These three Rogation Days precede the great feast of the Ascension of the Lord, and not by accident. Christ rises to the Father, not to abandon us, but to triumph—

If one part is suffering, all the rest suffer with it; if one part is treated with honor, all the rest find pleasure in it. And you are Christ’s body . . . .[3]

Holy desires, upright counsels, and just works—these, not man’s cleverness, make the human family to flourish; but they are gifts from God, gifts un-receivable by persons or cultures that behave as if He did not exist. Our Rogation Days enter the scene as our remedy.

Here, the Church exercises her priestly function in the world. If the world has forgotten its dependence upon God—either on account of fear or narrow self-reliance or whatever reason—Rogation Days find Catholics speaking up for their bewildered neighbors.

Though indeed, Catholics also speak for themselves. They are honest enough to realize that their hearts need to be given over anew to God’s commands. How frequently we neglect the sacred things given to us for our very good! How often we forget ourselves, tantalized by the goods or habits of the world. Thus we ask, for the peace that goes un-given by the world. Courageously, like children, we ask.

How liturgically provident, these Ascension Rogation Days.


[1] General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, 14 February 1969, nn 45-47.

[2] Translation of the author.

[3] 1 Corinthians 12, 26-27; emphasis added.

{Art credit: Zdzisław Piotr Jasiński (1863-1932), Palm Sunday, 1891.}