Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Preparing to ask: A quick "take" on Rogation Days

This Thursday, April 25, in addition to being the Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist, is, at least traditionally, also the major Spring Rogation Day. You might be asking, Row-gay-shu what? For the most part, we no longer observe Rogation Days in the Spring or Ember days in the Fall. I want to be clear, there is absolutely no obligation to observe either Rogation or Ember Days at all. Historically, Rogation and Ember Days were days set aside to observe a change in the seasons. Rogation Days were tied to planting crops. Roman Catholics traditionally observed four Rogation Days, a Major Rogation, which is 25 April, and three Minor Rogations, which fall on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday just before Ascension Thursday (which in my neck-of-the-woods is transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter).

So, how are Rogation Days observed? According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Rogation Days are days "of prayer, and formerly also of fasting, instituted by the Church to appease God's anger at man's transgressions, to ask protection in calamities, and to obtain a good and bountiful harvest." The word "rogation" comes from the Latin word rogatio, derived, in turn, from the verb rogare, which simply means to "to ask."

Fasting, when done in the proper spirit, accompanied by more frequent and heartfelt prayer as well as acts of charity and alms-giving, is a beautiful exercise in Christian freedom. Yes, you read that correctly, a beautiful exercise in Christian freedom. In a lovely sermon he gave recently, Alistair Begg (who would likely be very surprised to find out he was mentioned on a Catholic blog), preaching on 1 Corinthians 9:15-18, said, "The ultimate exercise of freedom, for Paul, was the freedom to restrict his freedom. That's how he showed how free he really was by not using the freedom that really had." At least for me, this the only way to approach to fasting.



Thursday's Major Rogation Day presents us with an opportunity to exercise our Christian freedom by fasting and praying, asking God to bless the fields and crops, our own gardens, those of our neighbors. We might expand this to include prayers for resolving the vexing problem of world hunger, both physical and spiritual. We might also take this opportunity to give alms to organizations, like Catholic Relief Services or the Catholic Near Eastern Welfare Association, or to your local food pantry, or other outreach that seeks to help those in need where you are.

In another of her lovely posts, "There’s certainly an ‘end times’ feel to today," Francis Phillips notes that "in Pope Francis’s new book, On Heaven and Earth... he writes that 'Maybe his [the Devil’s] greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe that he does not exist and that all can be fixed on a purely human level.' Well, he does exist, he has been overcome by Christ’s death and Resurrection and he is defeated today, as always, by prayer, fasting and the sacraments." Or, as Msgr. Giussani said, let "the beginning of every day be a yes to the Lord who embraces us and makes fruitful the soil of our heart for the accomplishment of His work in the world, which is the victory over death and evil."

I invite you to fast and pray with me on Thursday. The main prayer for Rogation Days, Major and Minor, is the Litany of the Saints.

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