Suggestions as Rogation Days return to the Diocese of Peoria

Photo Caption: Father Luke Spannagel, episcopal vicar for rural life in the Diocese of Peoria, is shown during a meeting of the Council of Farmers in the summer of 2012.

By: By Father Luke Spannagel

Editor’s Note: In his 2014 Festival Letter to the Diocese of Peoria, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, proposes a return to the observance of Rogation Days in 2014. Following is an explanation of Rogation Days by Father Luke Spannagel, diocesan episcopal vicar for rural life. At the conclusion of his column, Father Spannagel also offers suggestions for how the five special days can be observed by parishes as well as individuals and families.

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Throughout all ages, from the ancient Israelites to our modern day homes, from the early American settlers to our families today, the fruits of the land have been and continue to be a basic staple of culture and life. We all know that food is a basic necessity — our daily survival is critically dependent on the nutrition that comes from our food. In addition, in our modern day, we have become incredibly dependent on a wide variety of agricultural products that go far beyond nourishing our bodies. Regardless of how technology advances through the years, the fruits of the land continue to be of critical importance to our lives.

Of course, Our Lord Jesus knew of this truth, speaking often from parables and illustrations about agriculture, weather and seasons. Among the most widely cherished about growth and harvest are the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat, and the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8). Regarding the weather, one might think of Jesus teaching about the wind and the Holy Spirit (John 3:8) or reading the weather/signs of the times (Luke 12:54-56). When it comes to fruitfulness, other passages come to mind, including: a tree being known by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20) or the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9).

In each of these examples, Jesus takes something observable in nature and uses it as a way of deepening understanding or teaching a moral lesson.

Following upon the example of Jesus, the Church has continuously sought out and built upon the truths that connect our Faith with the activities and happenings of our daily lives. In addition to nature and the seasons, the Church finds opportunities throughout our experiences for teaching the truths Christ has given us. For example: work and labor conditions give an opportunity to speak about social justice and the rights of people; advances in medical technology provide an arena for moral teaching about the dignity of the human person; music and art allow for discussions on beauty and goodness; and the changes of the seasons enable reflections on growth, life, death, and the hope for the perfections of heaven that await us.

Nestled within these truths taught by Jesus, the Church has developed many devotions to aid the faithful in deepening their understanding and drawing closer to God through the life of prayer. As one might expect, these devotions include many prayers and litanies to help deepen the spiritual lives of God’s people. Additionally, from time to time, the Church proposes days of fasting and penance to help the faithful unite together in prayer for a special cause, to praise and thank God for His love and goodness, and to ask for the blessings we need going forward.

Within our history, one such devotion has been “Rogation Days.” The word “rogation” comes from the Latin word rogare, which means “to ask.” As some of our seasoned Catholics may remember from their youth, Rogation Days were days set apart by the Church for prayer and penance, specifically asking God’s blessing on the fields and for a fruitful growing season. Traditionally, there were four Rogation Days, the Major Rogation which fell on April 25th and the Minor Rogations which were the three days prior to the celebration of the Ascension of our Lord (traditionally, Ascension Thursday, but now celebrated on Sunday in our region).

While previously celebrated by the Universal Church as a whole, currently, the establishment of Rogation Days has been delegated to the bishops after the reform of the Liturgical Calendar in 1969.

April 25th, historically the Major Rogation Day (which faithful Catholics may recognize as the Feast of St. Mark), is actually a date that originates from an ancient Roman festival for favorable crops. As has been the Church’s practice, truth and goodness were identified in a culture (desire for fruitful growing season) and then translated to a fuller understanding of the truth (God is the one from whom all good comes; we pray and ask His blessing and favor). Pope St. Gregory the Great (+604) officially instituted the Major Rogation, which had been in practice for some time among the faithful.

The history of the Minor Rogations hearkens back to a 5th century bishop in what today is France. As the Catholic Encyclopedia teaches, Bishop Mamertus, bishop of Vienne (France) introduced these days around 470 A.D.

Carl Fortunato writes that Bishop Mamertus’ time was marked by a great deal of difficulty, including invasions, disease, earthquakes, and fire. “As a result, Mamertus spent a great deal of time in prayer, beseeching God to help the stricken community. One night, when the village was overwhelmed with a fire, he conceived the idea of instituting [an] annual procession and litany in which the entire community would pray for God’s blessing and protection. He is reported to have said: ‘We shall pray to God that He will turn away the plagues from us, and preserve us from all ill, from hail and drought, fire and pestilence, and from the fury of our enemies; to give us favorable seasons, that our land may be fertile, good weather and good health, and that we may have peace and tranquility, and obtain pardon for our sins’.”

As the celebration of these days continued through time, common ways of observing Rogation Days included fasting and processing around the parish boundaries (often called “beating the bounds” where the boundaries of the parish would be re-marked each year), blessing trees and stones along the way. Meanwhile, the faithful would sing and pray together various litanies, asking God’s protection for the coming year. Typically, farmers had their fields blessed as well, asking God for a fruitful growing season.

As we look back on the devotions associated with Rogation Days, we can see that they have served great purpose by uniting people in prayer to ask for God’s blessing and help. Humbly acknowledging our continued need for God’s blessing today and understanding the importance of devotions for enriching the spiritual lives of our people, Bishop Jenky is planning to reintroduce Rogation Days for our Diocese.

After considering prior observances and some helpful suggestions from our Council of Farmers, Bishop Jenky will build upon our current observance of a day of penance and prayer for life on January 22, establishing four additional Rogation Days for our Diocese. These days will focus on the new beginning of the planting season, continued growth during the summer, the fruitfulness of the harvest, and the blessing of family life.

In addition to the traditional fasting and penance associated with Rogation Days, these days will also include devotions for parish celebration and spiritual challenges for individuals to draw nearer to Christ and one another. It is the hope of our Bishop and our Council of Farmers that our new “Rogation Days” will be a great gift to deepen our faith lives and strengthen the unity of our Church here in the Diocese of Peoria!

SUGGESTIONS FOR CELEBRATION OF ROGATION DAYS

1. Life: January 22nd — continuing our commitment to uphold the dignity of every human life
a. Associated with the anniversary of the Supreme Court Decision legalizing abortion
b. Parish devotions: Holy Hour/Rosary for Life; Blessing of the Child in the Womb; Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary; Talk/homily about the dignity of life; Possible Votive/Special Masses: “For Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Human Life” (#48/1AorB) or “For Peace and Justice (#30)
c. Individual spiritual challenge: Visit an elderly person and spend time listening to and talking with them; Write a letter to someone important in your life and tell them why you love/value them; Attend a pro-life event

2. Planting: March 24th — highlighting the new beginning of the growing season
a. Associated with the Annunciation, the beginning of Christ’s time on earth among us
b. Parish devotions: Blessing of Seeds and Fields (perhaps in the context of Evening Prayer); Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary; Talk or homily about Evangelization — how to be an evangelist in daily life; Possible Votive/Special Masses: “At Seedtime” (#27), Collect “For Fine Weather” (#36), “For the Evangelization of Peoples” (#18); For evening Mass: anticipation of “The Annunciation of the Lord” (March 25th)
c. Individual spiritual challenge: Challenge of meeting someone new in your parish/community; Attending a parish group/adult education opportunity; Invite someone to Mass who isn’t Catholic/has been away from the Church

3. Growing: June 23rd — highlighting pollination and continued healthy growth
a. Associated with transition to the time of Christ the Messiah with the birth of St. John the Baptist
b. Parish devotions: Holy Hour/Prayers for Favorable Weather; Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary; Extra times for Confession; Talk or homily on Confession; Possible Votive/Special Masses: Collect “For Rain” (#35) or “For Fine Weather” (#36) or “For an End to Storms (#37), “For the Progress of Peoples” (#29), or “For the Forgiveness of Sins” (#38 A/B); For evening Mass: Vigil Mass of “The Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24th)
c. Individual spiritual challenge: Weeding your spiritual garden/weeding your soul through the Sacrament of Reconciliation; Committing to read 10 minutes of Bible or Catechism each night for a week; Attend Mass together as a family followed by a family meal

4. Harvest: Sept 13th — highlighting victory, completion, and fruitfulness
a. Associated with the victory of the Triumph of the Cross;
b. Parish devotions: Vicariate/Regional Harvest Mass; Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary; Possible Votive/Special Masses: Collect “For Fine Weather” (#36), “After the Harvest” (#28), “For the Sanctification of Human Labor” (#26 A/B), “For Giving Thanks to God” (#49 A/B)
c. Individual spiritual challenge: Challenge of sharing some of our bounty with those in need by making a donation of time, talent, or treasure to a local charity; Surprise someone with a “thank you” note for their contributions to your life; Make a list of 10 people you are thankful for and then tell them why

5. Family: December 7th — highlighting the goodness of family, unity in our Faith and in our homes
a. Associated with the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the mother of our family of faith
b. Parish devotions: Blessing of Families; Blessing of married couples; Talk/homily on the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, or any married saints; Night of Marian devotions; Possible Votive/Special Masses: “For the Family” (#12), “For Promoting Harmony” (#15), Votive of the Blessed Virgin Mary (#10 A/B) or St. Joseph (#13); For evening Mass: anticipation of the Immaculate Conception (Dec 8th)
c. Individual spiritual challenge: Having family dinner together that week; Having a technology free night/day; Praying together as a family — Rosary or other devotion.

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