The following homily was preached by the Reverend Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., on May 7, 2018 (the first of the former “Rogation Days”) at the Church of the Holy Innocents in Manhattan.
The three days prior to Ascension Thursday have been traditionally known as “Rogation Days” or the “Minor Litanies,” with the “Major Rogation” being observed on April 25. Their purpose was to beg God (rogare, to ask or beg) for His blessings on the harvest, thus prayers offered at the time of the sowing of the seed. The liturgical rites surrounding the days consisted of the Litany of the Saints and an outdoor procession encompassing the parish boundaries and blessing the fields therein. Actually, these days had their origin in the Robigalia of Pagan Rome as days of prayer (with processions) set aside to implore various gods for good weather and an abundant harvest. As the Church “baptized” these rituals, they also became days of penitence, the idea being that one needed to do penance in order to gain a favorable response to one’s prayers to the Almighty.
With the reform of the general calendar in 1969, these days were not eliminated so much as transferred to other realities. Thus episcopal conferences and diocesan bishops were encouraged to foster local observances connected to the same theme, namely, prayers for divine favor on the seed-planting and eventual harvest. This made sense because if a community was located in a hemisphere where it was not seed-time, it would be better to transfer the ceremonies to the proper season for that locale. The feast of St. Isidore the Farmer is also an appropriate occasion. Several suitable Mass formularies can be found in the Roman Missal of 1970. In other words, the change was intended to make the ceremonies more meaningful and better celebrated; the reality, like so many other changes, had the exact opposite effect, so that the rogation days disappeared into oblivion for the most part.
This is most unfortunate for any number of reasons, however, the most important in my judgment is that it has brought about a loss of the Church’s connection to rural life – a loss for those who work our farms and a tragic loss for city-dwellers who fail to appreciate how dependent we are on the land for the basic necessities of life.
On these days leading up to Ascension Thursday, I would like to focus attention on the nature of intercessory prayer, prayer offered for our own particular intentions and prayer offered for the intentions of our loved ones or those most in need of our prayers.
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