Saturday, May 21st, 2022

‘Te rogamus’: On the Ascensiontide Rogations

The collect for this Sunday proves the point we have been making for the past three weeks: “by your holy inspiration, grant that we may think those things that are right,” &c. Which is to say, that meditation brings about rightness with God. Not by accident either that the collected uses the language of inspiration, that is, a breathing into. It is the very thing that will happen to the Church on Pentecost. 

Today also begins Rogation Week, i.e., the week of the three Rogation Days which precede the feast of the Ascension. These three days, if celebrated in all their solemnity, involve a penitential procession, after which a Mass is said, in violet. The purpose of these processions and Masses is to ask; to ask for God to deliver us from the various calamities which may come our way. Tragic that we cannot observe these extremely noble rites; but at very least I may describe them to you. 

The Rogation procession begins with the litany of the saints being sung. The Virgin Mother stands at the head of those named, and she is invoked thrice: Holy Mary, Holy Mother of God, Holy Virgin of Virgins. Then follow the archangels, immediately followed by the great patriarchs, St John the Baptist and St Joseph highest among them. Then follow the apostles and evangelists, named individually. The Holy Innocents are invoked. Then the earliest martyrs of the Church who were men: Stephen, Vincent, Lawrence, and the rest of those named in the Roman Canon. The four Latin Doctors, along with Martin and Nicholas. Then follow the founders of the great religious orders: Benedict, Bernard, Dominic, Francis. After these, St Mary Magdalen is named, followed by all the women martyrs of the Canon: Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Catherine, Anastasia. 

After the saints, the Church begs to be delivered from all those mortal threats which mark human life: from all evil, wrath, sudden death, the lies of the devil, anger, hatred, ill will, the spirit of fornication, lightening, wind, earthquake, plague, famine, war, and everlasting death. Then the singers call upon all the mysteries of Christ’s life, beginning with his Incarnation and concluding with his sending of the Holy Ghost. 

After the mysteries are invoked, the litany begins to petition on behalf of the Church and for the necessities of human flourishing. We pray for the Holy Father and all the clergy; that the enemies of the Church would be humbled; that Christian rulers be sustained; that the unity of the Church would be restored; that schismatics, heretics, and unbelievers would make their return; that the Catholic people would be faithful to their vocations and love heavenly things; that our benefactors, living and deceased, would be rewarded and saved; that the fruits of the earth would be abundant; that all the dead would find rest. 

Remember that all these prayers take place in procession, with the cross and clergy leading in violet vestments, followed by the faithful—through streets and fields. 

The litany is nearly finished. The Lamb of God is invoked, followed by Psalm 69. Then the Our Father is prayed. More versicles follow for the pope, our benefactors, and the dead. Then, the procession having arrived at its destination, a series of ten prayers of great beauty are sung or recited by the celebrant. One of those prayers, summarizing the general intention of the procession, says this:

O God, from whom holy desires, good counsels, and all just works proceed, grant to Your servants that peace which the world cannot give: that our hearts be set to obey your commandments, and that, being defended from the fear of our enemies, we may pass our time in peace under Your protection. 

That, dearly beloved, is a Rogation Procession, a practice which has its origins in the fifth century. Imagine a world which took such things seriously.    

{Art Credit: Marc-Aurele de Foy Suzor-Cote, The Blessing of the Maples (c 1914), private collection.}

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