Wednesday, May 8, 2013
The three days leading up to the great feast of Ascension Thursday are, traditionally, the Rogation Days, or Lesser Litanies.
The Old Catholic Encyclopedia notes: "The "Litania Minor", or "Gallicana", on the Rogation Days before Ascension, was introduced (477) by St. Mamertus, Bishop of Vienne, on account of the earthquakes and other calamities then prevalent. It was prescribed for the whole of Frankish Gaul, in 511, by the Council of Orléans (can. xxvii). For Rome it was ordered by Leo III, in 799."
These three days of particular prayer and supplication are similar, but unrelated to, the Greater Litanies of St. Mark's Day, 25 April, that originated not from France, but from Italy and Rome. These are days of litanies and processions in earnest prayer for freedom from natural disaster and a successful growing season.
The Fish Eater's site has an excellent summation of the Rogation Days:
They note that, "The liturgy for the Rogation Days, during which the priest is vested in purple, begins with Psalm 43:26 --"Arise, O Lord, help us and redeem us for Thy name's sake" -- which is followed by the Litany of the Saints (you can download this Litany, in Microsoft Word .doc format, in English or in Latin). At the Litany's "Sancta Maria," all stand and a procession begins, which in older times was (and still is in rural areas) usually around the boundaries of the parish, giving to the procession the name of "beating the bounds.""
The Golden Legend of Blessed Jacobus de Voragine, a 13th century book of the Lives of the Saints, describes the Procession of the Rogation Days thus:
"And in this procession the Cross is borne, the clocks and the bells be sounded and rung, the banners be borne, and in some churches a dragon with a great tail is borne. And aid and help is demanded of all Saints.
And the cause why the Cross is borne and the bells rung is for to make the evil spirits afraid and to flee; for like as the kings have in battles tokens and signs-royal, as their trumpets and banners, right so the King of Heaven perdurable hath His signs militant in the Church. He hath bells for business and for trumps, He hath the Cross for banners. And like as a tyrant and a malefactor should much doubt when he shall hear the business and trumps of a mighty king in his land, and shall see his banners, in like wise the enemies, the evil spirits that be in the region of the air, doubt much when they hear the trumpets of God which be the bells rung, and when they see the banners borne on high. And this is the cause why the bells be rung when it thundereth, and when great tempests and outrages of weather happen, to the end that the fiends and the evil spirits should be abashed and flee, and cease of the moving of tempests. Howbeit also that there is another cause therewith; that is for to warn the Christian people, that they put them in devotion and in prayer, for to pray God that the tempest may cease.
There is also the banner of the King, that is the Cross, which the enemies dread much and doubt. For they dread the staff with which they have been hurt. And this is the reason wherefore in some churches in the time of tempest and of thunder, they set out the Cross against the tempest to the end that the wicked spirits see the banner of the sovereign King, and for dread thereof they flee. And therefore in procession the Cross is borne, and the bells rung for to chase and hunt away the fiends being in the air, and to the end that they leave to tempest us. The Cross is borne for to represent the victory of the Resurrection, and of the Ascension of Jesu Christ. For He ascended into Heaven with all a great prey. And thus this banner that flyeth in the air signifieth Jesu Christ ascending into Heaven.
And as the people follow the Cross, the banners, and the procession, right so when Jesu Christ styed up into Heaven a great multitude of Saints followed Him. And the song that is sung in the procession signifieth the song of angels and the praisings that came against Jesu Christ and conducted and conveyed Him to Heaven where is great joy and melody.
In some churches, and in especial in them of France, is accustomed to bear a dragon with a long tail filled full of chaff or other thing. The two first days it is borne before the Cross, and on the third day they bear it after the Cross, with the tail all void, by which is understood that the first day tofore the law, or the second under the law, the devil reigned in the world, and on the third day, of grace, by the Passion of Jesu Christ, he was put out of his realm."
Here is a site with some details of the particular liturgies of the Rogation Days:
May we well prepare for the coming Feast of the Ascension, and pray earnestly for a successful growing season, freedom from calamity, and perhaps, in light of recent news, for a healthy stock of honey bees!