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Rogation Days, Ember Days, and the New Evangelization1 Esther Mary Nickel, R.S.M. Introduction Until the reform of the General Roman Calendar in 1969,2 there were designated days in the Church’s liturgical year set aside for fasting, penance, prayers of petition and processions. In addition to prayers for a bountiful harvest and the blessing of fields, these special days, known as Rogation Days and Ember Days, included prayers for vocations to the priesthood, thereby encompassing both the literal and the figurative meanings of Christ’s injunction: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Lk 10:2 RSV). Rogation and Ember Days were of no small significance in the liturgical tradition of the western Church, as collectively they constituted sixteen days of the liturgical year: four Rogation Days and twelve Ember Days. The purpose of this essay is to explore the origin of these special days, their purpose and significance in the Church’s tradition, and the question of their relevance today as the Church launches a “new evangelization.” I. Rogation Days The word “rogation” derives from the Latin rogatio, rogationis and the verb rogare: to ask, petition or beg. According to Dom Prosper Guéranger, “The object of the Rogation days is to appease the anger of God, and avert the chastisements which the sins of the world so justly deserve; moreover, to draw down the divine blessing on the fruits of the earth.”3 1 This is a modified version of a paper delivered at the 2012 conference of the Society for Catholic Liturgy. See the Conference Report in these pages. 2 Paul VI, Motu Proprio Mysterii paschalis, approving the general norms for the liturgical year and the new General Roman Calendar (14 February 1969), in Acta Apostolicae Sedis (henceforth: AAS) 61 (1969) 222-26. 3 Prosper Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, vol. 9, Paschal Time–Book III, 4th ed., trans. Laurence Shepherd (Great Falls MT: St Bonaventure, 2000) 134-35. Antiphon 16.1 (2012): 21-36 22 Esther Mary Nickel, R.S.M. With the decline of the Roman Empire, the fifth century was a time of great trial for the Church in western Europe. In addition, Gaul suffered a number of earthquakes and other disasters. Acknowledging the need of divine assistance, St Mamertus (d. 475), then bishop of Vienne, prescribed public expiation on the three days preceding Ascension Day, during which the faithful were to do penance and walk in procession praying appropriate psalms. Thus originated the Rogation Days, which would later become part of the Church’s liturgy. This practice soon spread throughout Gaul and was eventually adopted by the whole western Church. The first Council of Orleans (511) decreed that the observance of Rogation Days include fasting , abstinence from meat, and the release of servants from work so that they could participate in the activities of these three days. The Council of Tours (567) likewise imposed the precepts of fasting and resting from servile work during the Rogation Days. According to St Caesarius of Arles (d. 543), each day’s procession lasted six hours, and when the clergy became weary, the women took up the chanting . Guéranger remarks wryly: “The faithful of those days had not made the discovery, which was reserved for modern times, that one requisite for religious processions is that they be as short as possible.” The procession for the Rogation Days began with the imposition of ashes upon the heads of the faithful (as now on Ash Wednesday); the faithful were then sprinkled with holy water, and the procession began. Each day’s procession was made up of the clergy and people of several of the smaller parishes, who were headed by the cross of the principal church, which conducted the whole ceremony. All walked bare-foot, singing the litany, psalms, and antiphons, until they reached the church appointed for the station, where the holy sacrifice was offered. They entered the churches that lay on their route, and sang an antiphon or responsory appropriate to each.4 This practice made its way to Rome, where the Rogation Days were named the...


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