Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Feast of St Petronilla

Long before either the Visitation or the Queenship of the Virgin Mary were celebrated on this day, and before those, St Angela Merici, the founder of the Ursulines, May 31st was the feast day of St Petronilla. Although she is missing from the oldest Roman liturgical books, she is seen in a painting of the mid-4th century in the catacomb of Domitilla, where she was buried, and her name appears on lists of the venerated tombs of martyrs in the sixth and seventh centuries. In the reign of Pope St Paul I (757-67), an ancient sarcophagus containing her remains was translated from the catacomb to the basilica of St Peter, the treasury of which still preserves a large metal reliquary with her skull inside it.

Fresco of the mid-4th century, with the martyr Petronilla on the right, leading a young woman named Veneranda into the garden of Paradise. (Image source.)
The true history of her life and martyrdom has long since been lost, but she was for many centuries believed to be the daughter of St Peter. This idea seems to have come partly from her name and the location of her relics, partly from a Gnostic “Acts of St Peter”, which speaks of a daughter of St Peter, without giving her a name. (In the Middle Ages, this apocryphal document would not have been understood as a work of heretical origin.)

The first edition of the Breviary of St Pius V carried over from its late medieval predecessors two brief Matins lessons of her life, which state that she was miraculously healed of paralysis by her father, relapsed, and while she was recovering again, a “count” named Flaccus conceived a wish to marry her sight unseen. Petronilla, “understanding that the human race’s most bitter enemy was readying an assault on her virginity, which she had dedicated to Jesus Christ”, prayed and fasted for three days, and then, after receiving the Eucharist, died. When St Robert Bellarmine and Cardinal Cesare Baronio revised the Saints’ lives for a new edition of the Breviary, published in 1602, these lessons were replaced with a generic one from the common of Virgins, a clear sign that the traditional story was considered wholly unreliable.

A reconstruction and partial cross-section view of old St Peter’s Basilica, with the mausoleum mentioned below on the far left. This structure was round on the outside, but octagonal on the inside. A narthex was later constructed between the left transept of the basilica and the rotunda, and doors opened up to form a passage from the church into the mausoleum. Another passage connected the mausoleum with its twin next door, also demolished by Vignola in the 1570s.
In the middle of the 5th century, a large mausoleum was built next to the left transept of the Constantinian basilica of St Peter. Six of its eight internal niches later became chapels, with that opposite the door being dedicated to St Petronilla; for a long time, this chapel was under the patronage of the kings of France. In 1498, Cardinal Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas, the French ambassador to the Papal court, commissioned his own funerary monument to be added to the chapel, from a 23-year-old Florentine sculptor named Michelangelo Buonarroti. This is, of course, one of the most loved and admired sculptures in the entire world, the Pietà.

Michelangelo did not know, of course, that only 7 years after the sculpture’s completion and the Cardinal’s death, both in 1499, Pope Julius II and the architect Donatello Bramante would begin (though just barely) the process of replacing the ancient basilica, then in a pitiable state. Much less did he know that, after decades of delays, he himself would take the project in hand in 1545, at the age of 70, and spend the last 19 years of his life working on the monumental church which we have today. Although he lived to an extraordinary age for that era, dying 2 weeks before his 89th birthday, he did know full well that he would not live to see the project finished. It fell to his successor as chief architect of St Peter’s, Giacomo Vignola, to demolish the mausoleum where the Pietà originally stood, in order to make way for the left transept of the vastly larger new basilica.

The Pietà now stands in its own chapel at the back of St Peter’s, and most of the thousands of people who come to see it every day never visit the chapel dedicated to St Petronilla on the opposite end of the building. (The new church is so much larger than the old one that this chapel in the northwest corner stands entirely outside the former footprint of the Constantinian structure.) Around the year 1623, the painter Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666), known by the nickname “Guercino” (“squinty” in the dialect of his native region, the Emilia Romagna), was commissioned to do a painting of the Burial of St Petronilla for this chapel.

Guercino was especially admired for a remarkably vivid blue paint of his own invention, which he uses for two figures in this painting, as well as the sky in the background. In the upper part, it clothes Christ as He receives St Petronilla into heaven. Although the historical St Petronilla was certainly honored as a martyr, as the legendary daughter of St Peter, she is honored as a virgin, but not as a martyr, and here she is shown receiving the crown of virginity, but not the palm of martyrdom.

Below, notice the intense realism of the scene of her burial; we see the hands of a man standing in her grave, but only his hands, reaching up to help lower her body into it. The fellow dressed in blue on the left is the painter’s tribute to Michelangelo, whose most famous sculpture formerly graced the chapel of the same Saint for whom Guercino himself made this painting. The face of this man is taken from a bust of Michelangelo carved by the latter’s disciple Daniele da Volterra, and his massive forearm is very much that of a sculptor. (Even as a very elderly man, Michelangelo never ceased to work in his favorite medium, sculpture in white marble, a labor-intensive and muscle-building activity.) Surely by design and not coincidence, the chapel immediately next to that of St Petronilla in the modern basilica is dedicated to Michelangelo’s name-saint, the Archangel Michael.

Portrait of Michelangelo by Marco Venusti, one of his friends and colleagues, ca. 1535. (Public domain image from Wikipedia.)

Catholic Education Foundation Seminar: The Role of the Priest in Today’s Catholic School

July 12 - 14th, North Palm Beach, Florida. For bishops, priests and seminarians; participation is limited to 35.

Thank you to Fr Peter Stravinskas of the Catholic Education Foundation for the following information about this wonderful annual event intended primarily for bishops, priests and seminarians. I attended last year as a speaker and was delighted to be part of this event, which is inspiring and full of hope. This offers priests who are involved in or have an interest in orthodox Catholic education practical advice and support.

St John Baptist de La Salle, patron saint of Catholic educators
Fr Peter writes:

The Catholic Education Foundation invites bishops, priests, and seminarians to participate in an intensive and comprehensive three-day seminar The Role of the Priest in Today’s Catholic School.

For whom? Clergy who are pastors, parochial vicars, or those directly involved in the elementary or secondary school apostolate (or who wish to be) – as well as seminarians.

When? From 4:00 p.m., July 12 to 4:00 p.m., July 14, 2022

Where? Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center, North Palm Beach (a ten-minute ride from West Palm Beach Airport)

The Team? Rev. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D. (President, CEF)
  • Michael Acquilano (Director, South Carolina Catholic Conference) , 
  • Sister Elizabeth Ann Allen, OP, Ed.D. (Director, Center for Catholic Education, Aquinas College, Nashville), 
  • Thomas Carroll (Superintendent of Schools, Archdiocese of Boston), 
  • David Clayton (Provost, Pontifex University), 
  • Rev. Sean Connolly (Parochial Vicar, Archdiocese of New York), 
  • Most Rev. Thomas Daly (Bishop of Spokane; Chairman, USCCB Committee on Education), 
  • Rev. Michael Davis (Pastor, Archdiocese of Miami), 
  • Mary Pat Donoghue (Executive Director, Secretariat of Catholic Education, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), 
  • Most Rev. Arthur Kennedy, Ph.D. (Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus, Archdiocese of Boston), 
  • Rev. James Kuroly, Ed.D. (President/Rector, Cathedral Prep, Brooklyn), 
  • Sister Mary Elizabeth Merriam, OP (St. Michael the Archangel High School, Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph), 
  • Dr. Margaret Mooney-Suarez (Associate Professor, Princeton Theological Seminary; founder, Scala Foundation), 
  • Rev. Christopher Peschel (Pastor, Diocese of Fall River), 
  • Rev. Msgr. Sal Pilato (Former Superintendent of Secondary Schools, Los Angeles Archdiocese) 
  • Brother Owen Sadlier, OSF (Professor of Philosophy, Cathedral Seminary House of Formation, Diocese of Brooklyn) 
  • Rev. Msgr. Joseph Schaedel (Pastor, Archdiocese of Indianapolis)
  • Lincoln Snyder (President, National Catholic Educational Association) ,
How much? $600 (all-inclusive); $550 for registrations before May 31

Our seminar will include workshops dealing with the following topics:

• Conciliar and Papal Teaching on Catholic Education

• The History of Catholic Education in the United States

• The Priest’s Presence in the School Community (Students, Faculty, Administration, Parents)

• The Priest as the Public Relations Man of the School

• Financial Concerns

• Models of Governance and Best Practices

For further information: call 732-903-5213 or email fstravinskas@hotmail.com. 

To enroll: Alternatively, you can send checks to the amount of $600 should be made payable to Catholic Education Foundation. The address is Catholic Education Foundation, 601 Buhler Court, Pine Beach, New Jersey 08741. Include also your name, address, email, and phone number.

“The role of the priest in shaping the identity and mission of our Catholic schools is indispensable. This summer’s CEF conference is sure to give excellent guidance to our priests in carrying out this role with renewed dedication and wisdom.” 
Most Rev. James Massa , Rector, St. Joseph Seminary, New York

Monday, May 30, 2022

“Mighty Conquering Warrior”: The Queenship of Mary

Andrea di Bartolo, Coronation of the Virgin
May 31, on the calendar of the Roman Rite, is the Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary (plus a commemoration of St. Petronilla). We bring this to mind every time we pray the Fifth Glorious Mystery. It is worth our while to ponder why she is, and is called, our Queen. Always feeling much safer when relying on a worthy authority, in this case I am happy to lean on Blessed Columba Marmion, who writes in his Rosary meditations:
What is the purpose of all the mysteries of Christ? To be the pattern of our supernatural life, the means of our sanctification, the source of all our holiness. To create an eternal and glorious society of brethren who will be like unto Him. For this reason Christ, the new Adam, has associated with Himself Mary, as the new Eve. But she is, much more than Eve, “the Mother of all the living,” the Mother of those who live in the grace of her Son. And since here below Mary was associated so intimately with all the mysteries of our salvation, at her Assumption into heaven Jesus crowned her not only with glory but also with power; He has placed His Mother on His right hand and has given her the power, in virtue of her unique title of Mother of God, to distribute the treasures of eternal life. Let us then, full of confidence, pray with the Church: “Show yourself a Mother: Mother of Jesus, by your complete faith in Him, our Mother, by your mercy towards us; ask Christ, Who was born of you, to give us life; and Who willed to be your Son, to receive our prayers through you.”
Dom Marmion observes that Jesus honors His mother not only with glory, as we celebrate on the feast of her assumption into heaven, but also with power, as we celebrate on the feast of her actual rulership, sub et cum Christo, over angels and men and, one may dare to say, the entire created order.

It requires little experience with devotional books to lament the fact that, especially in the past 150 years, Catholics have tended to sentimentalize the cult of the Virgin Mary, in ways that make it rather difficult to imagine her as powerful. Yet she is our queen, our empress, a victorious warrior who has crushed the serpent’s head. Where Mary reigns as queen, her Son reigns as king, for they are inseparable in the plan of salvation; where she reigns not, where her reign is ignored or denied, His royal reign is hampered, for His very identity is obscured and negated. Whoever has a weak or tepid view of Mary and her God-given authority over creatures will have a weak view of her Son and his properly divine authority over creatures. If she is made into a shy, wilting, fearful maiden, her Son will become a teary-eyed, slightly effeminate man, a dishonor done to Him by far too many holy cards and religious paintings.

The fact that Our Lady stood under the cross when nearly everyone else fled, and in the darkness of faith offered up her most precious treasure, her own flesh and blood, to the heavenly Father, means that she must have had the strongest human heart in the history of the world, with the greatest supernatural heroism. There is no martyr, confessor, virgin, or anchoress, no wife, mother, or widow whose virtues the Blessed Virgin did not possess in superabundance, in accordance with the grace of her divine Motherhood, which is the root and perfection of all her privileges.

As our Eastern brethren proclaim:
Mighty conquering warrior, Mother of God, thy servants whom thou hast freed from ills offer up to thee songs of thanksgiving, and with thine unconquerable power, deliver us from all affliction, that we may cry unto thee, hail Bride unwedded!
Fra Filippo Lippi, Coronation of the Virgin
These regal and militant images can, of course, become a false portrait if they are taken in an excessively worldly sense. The Virgin Mary is our gentle and gracious Mother, humble and self-effacing, attentive to God alone, a “little flower” of exquisitely hidden beauty. And yet, I would maintain that taking either set of images and using it exclusively, as Catholics have tended to do with the “Mother dearest, meek and mild” type of language, is to miss something essential about the awesome reality of the Holy Theotokos as the archetype of all of God’s creations, the most resplendently holy, noble, worthy, and powerful person God has ever made, one fashioned in his wisdom before all the ages and destined to reign forever over the Mystical Body of Christ, the innumerable hosts of angels, the vast throng of men and women saved from the jaws of death by the indomitable faith and unconquered fortitude of the Mother of God. No wonder the ancient liturgy applies to her so many passages from the Book of Wisdom that were once applied (sometimes in an Arian sense) to Christ!

On this day, then, we venerate the might of her holiness—and the grace of her Son ever inundating and pouring forth from her Immaculate Heart, the secret source of her power. Holy Mary, Mother of God, Queen of heaven and earth, pray for us now and at the hour of our death, Amen.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Mass of the Ages: Episode 2

As I am sure many of you have already seen, the second part of the Mass of the Ages trilogy premiered yesterday. This part talks a good deal about what the Second Vatican Council asked for, and how its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium was betrayed by the machinations of Abp Annibale Bugnini and the other members of the Consilium ad exsequendam. Among the speakers featured are our own Dr Peter Kwasniewski and Matthew Hazell, as well as Dom Alcuin Reid, and Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass Society. Once again, our congratulations to Cameron O’Hearn and his many collaborators on a job very well done; we are definitely looking forward to part 3. Feliciter! You can find more information about the project at the website: https://latinmass.com/

Take the ‘Mas’ Challenge

Ralph Fiennes in Quiz Show, 1994

Attention all lovers of the Roman liturgical tradition and the English language: We have a three-part challenge for you.

First, without scrolling down and seeing the answers, write down as many single-word names as you can of feast days and other liturgical occasions known by a name ending in “mas” or “mass.” The most obvious is Christ’s Mass or Christmas, but there are at least twenty one others (although one entry consists of two words).

Second, after you have compared your list with ours and graded yourself, see how many of the names you can properly define. Some are easy, others surprisingly difficult.
Third, see if you can surpass our list. We found almost all these words by scouring the Oxford English Dictionary, but our search was by no means exhaustive and there may be more. Write your own discoveries in the combox below.
We recently turned this challenge into a parlor game, and it was great fun, especially if your friends fit into that small Venn diagram of being both liturgical and linguistic nerds.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen on What’s My Line?
The following is an alphabetical listing of masophorous words, that is, words bearing “-mas” (a horrible neologism I just made up):
  1. Andrewmass
  2. Candlemas
  3. Childermas
  4. Christmas or Christenmas
  5. Crouchmas
  6. Ellenmas
  7. Georgemas
  8. Hallowmas
  9. Johnsmas
  10. Kermas
  11. Ladymas
  12. Lammas
  13. Latter Marymass
  14. Lukesmas
  15. Martinmas
  16. Martlemas
  17. Marymass
  18. Michaelmas or Michmas
  19. Petermas
  20. Roodmas
  21. Saumas
  22. Uphalimass
Ann Arbor Dominicans beating a team of Protestant ministers on The American Bible Challenge
The definitions of these words, in chronological order, are:
  1. Uphalimass, Epiphany, January 6--“up” can mean "completed, over" and “hali” is short for haliday or holiday. Epiphany is the end of the Christmas holidays
  2. Candlemas, The Purification of the BVM, February 2--from the blessing of candles on this day
  3. Ladymas, The Annunciation of the BVM, March 25 (although it can also pertain to just about any Marian feast)
  4. Georgemas, St. George, April 23
  5. Crouchmas, “Cross Mass,” the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross, May 3
  6. Johnsmas, St. John the Baptist, June 24
  7. Petermas, St. Peter [and St. Paul], June 29. Originally, though, it was the Feast of St. Peter in Chains, August 1
  8. Lammas, “Loaf Mass”, August 1. Lammas Day was never officially on the calendar, but it was still a big deal in England and Ireland, when a loaf made from the first grains of the harvest was taken to church and blessed
  9. Marymass, The Assumption of the BVM, August 15
  10. Ellenmas, St. Helen, August 18 [1]
  11. Latter Marymass. The Nativity of the BVM, September 8. If Assumption Day is the first Mary Mass of the season, Mary’s birthday is the occasion for the “later Mary Mass”--at least before the institution of the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the BVM on September 15 centuries later
  12. Roodmas, The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 14.  A “rood” is a crucifix placed on top of a rood screen, that is, lifted high or exalted, as in the "Dream of the Rood". It's amazing how precise our language can be about crosses
  13. Michaelmas, St. Michael the Archangel, September 29
  14. Lukesmas, St. Luke, October 18
  15. Hallowmas, All Saints’ Day, November 1
  16. Saumas, All Souls’ Day, November 2 (not to be confused with a “Soul Mass,” i.e., a Requiem Mass)
  17. Martinmas, St. Martin of Tours, November 11
  18. Martlemas, ibid.
  19. Andrewmass, St. Andrew, November 30
  20. Christmas or Christenmas, December 25
  21. Childermas, Holy Innocents, December 28
  22. Kermas or Kermis, a “church Mass,” that is, the anniversary of the dedication of a church. The term quickly migrated to an “annual fair or carnival, characterized by much noisy merry-making” or, in the U.S., a festival held for charitable purposes.
And in the odd category of pseudo-occasions is #23 1/2, Nevermas, “a time or date which never comes.” The phrase may have been inspired by the use of “latter Lammas,” which means the same thing: Lammas Day commemorates the very beginning of the wheat harvest, so a later Lammas is a contradiction in terms and thus an impossibility. A third liturgical term for never, incidentally, is “when two Sundays come together.” Casually work any of these into conversation when you want to say no to someone.
Did we miss anything? If so, let us know!

The author wishes to thank Dr. Melinda Nielsen, Dr. Reid Makowsky, Katherine Makowsky, Alexandra Foley, and Rosie for making the maiden voyage of this game a grand success.
[1] According to the OED: “St. Helena’s day; but the date intended is uncertain. Two saints of the name were commemorated in England: ‘St. Helen the virgin,’ perhaps the one whose day is May 22; and Helena the mother of Constantine. The latter is probably intended here; her festival is August 18, but the Sarum Martyrology assigns ‘Saynt Elene’ to May 18, the date of her translation.”

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Ascension of the Lord 2022

Men of Galilee, why do you wonder looking up to heaven? alleluia. As you have seen Him going into heaven, so shall He come, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Ps 46 All ye nations, clap your hands: shout unto God with the voice of joy. Glory be... Men of Galilee... (The Introit of the Ascension)

The Ascension, 1495-98, by Pietro Perugino (1448-1523); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
Introitus Viri Galilaei, quid admirámini aspicientes in caelum? allelúja: quemádmodum vidistis eum ascendentem in caelum, ita veniet, allelúja, allelúja, allelúja. Ps. 46 Omnes gentes, pláudite mánibus: jubiláte Deo in voce exsultatiónis. Gloria Patri... Viri Galilaei...

A motet by Palestrina on a similar text.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Durandus on the Minor Litanies

The following excerpts are taken from book VI, chapter 102 of William Durandus’ treatise on the Divine Offices.

On the three days before the feast of the Lord’s Ascension, the Rogations, which are also called the Litanies: the Greek word “litania” in Latin is “supplication”, or “rogation” (from ‘rogare – to ask’), on which the Holy Church asks God… to destroy the counsel of those who wish to live outside Her peace. At the same time, we also beseech God that He may defend us from a sudden death, and from every infirmity, and we ask the Saints, that they may intercede for us before God. …

The Procession of St Gregory the Great, by an anonymous Sienese painter of the mid-16th century. The traditional story recounts that when the procession described below reached the Mausoleum of Hadrian, which is fairly close to St Peter’s Basilica, an angel appeared over it with a drawn sword in his hand, which he then sheathed, symbolizing the end of the plague as in 2 Samuel 24.
Now the Litanies are two, the Greater and the Lesser. The Greater is on the feast of the blessed Mark, and was created by the blessed Gregory (the Great), because of a plague, which caused a swelling of the groin. Paul, a monk of Monte Cassino, the author of “The History of the Lombards”, wrote the story of its institution, saying that in the time of Pope Pelagius (II, 579-90) there was so great a flood in Italy, that the waters rose as high as the upper windows of the temple of Nero in Rome … Then there came forth up the Tiber a multitude of serpents, and one very large dragon among them, whose breath corrupted the air; from this came the plague in the groin, from which men died suddenly all over the place. When nearly the whole population of Rome had been destroyed, Pelagius declared a fast and procession for all, but during it, he himself died, along with seventy others. Gregory I, who is also called the Great, took his place, and commanded that this Litany be observed throughout the world; it is therefore called the Gregorian or Roman Litany. It is also called “Black Crosses”, since, as a sign of mourning for the death of so many men, and as a sign of penance, people wear black clothing, and the crosses and altars are veiled in black.

A folio of the Echternach Sacramentary, 895AD, with the stational prayers for the Greater Litanies as they were done in Rome; the stations are at the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, St Valentine (very far up the Tiber), “ad Pontem Olbi”, a corruption of “ad Pontem Milvium – at the Milvian bridge”, “at the Cross”, whcih was a station set up along the way, and two “in the atrium” of St Peter’s Basilica. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 9433; folio 76r.)
The Lesser Litanies, which are also called Rogations and processions, take place on the three days before the Ascension, … they were created in Vienne by the blessed Mamertus, bishop of that city. Because of a plague of wolves and other wild beasts, who were ferociously killing men in Gaul, and because of the dangerous earthquakes which were frequently taking place there, he enjoined a fast of three days on the people, and instituted the Litanies. But when the danger had passed, the fast became a custom of annual observance … This latter is called the Lesser Litany, because it was instituted by a lesser person, that is, by a simple bishop, and in a less important place, Vienne, while the Greater (Litany) is so called because it was instituted in a more important place, namely, Rome, and by a greater person, namely, Gregory the Great, and because of a great and very serious plague. However, the Lesser Litany is older, since it was instituted when Zeno was Emperor (ca. 470 AD), and the Greater in the time of the Emperor Maurice (582-602)

Litanies are also held for many other reasons, wherefore Pope Liberius established that a litany should be held for war, famine, pestilence, and other imminent adversities of this sort, so that we may escape from them by supplications, prayers and fasts. Therefore, because in this time of the year especially wars are wont to break out, and the fruits of the earth, which are still in bud or flower, can easily be corrupted in many different ways, the litanies are held, so that we may ask God to turn these things away from us, and to defend and deliver us from bad weather, and war, and the enemies of the Christian religion, as we also implore the patronage of the Saints …

… we beseech the Saints, because of our poverty, and their glory, and reverence for God. And when we celebrate the Litany because of imminent dangers, in penitential and mournful garb, we represent that last procession of the women who wept after the Lord when He was being led to the Cross, weeping, according to the Lord’s command, for ourselves and our children.

The imposition of ashes before the Rogation procession celebrated in 2017 in Milan; in the Ambrosian Rite, the penitential character of the Rogation days is far more marked than in the Roman Rite.
The Litanies also take place in this time, since the Church now asks more confidently, because Christ ascends, Who said, “Ask and ye shall receive.” (In the Gospel of the Sunday before the Ascension, John 16, 23-30.) She fasts at this time and prays, that through the mortification of the flesh, She may have little to do with it, and gain wings for herself through prayer, which is the wing by which the soul flies up to heaven. Thus is She is able to freely follow Christ as He ascends, and opens the way for us, and flies upon the wings of the wind. This is the reason why we join the last litany, the last fast, to the Ascension, so that through prayers and fasts, we may be able to lay aside the weight of the flesh, and follow Christ as He ascends.

Therefore, during the Litanies, there is a procession, and in some churches, (the antiphon) Exsurge, Domine is sung at the beginning. The Gospel canticle “Holy God, holy mighty one, holy immortal one, have mercy on us,” is also to be sung repeatedly by the boys’ choir, for John of Damascus tells the story … that in Constantinople, litanies were held because of some trouble, and a boy was taken up to heaven from the midst of the people, and there taught this chant; and returning to the people, sang it before everyone, and at once the trouble ceased. This chant was approved by the Council of Chalcedon, and therefore it is considered praiseworthy and authoritative …

… in the procession itself, the Cross goes first, and the reliquaries of the Saints, so that by the banner of the Cross, and the prayers of the Saints, demons may be repelled…

A banner is also carried to represent the victory of Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, since He went up to heaven with great spoils … just as the multitude of the faithful follow the banner in the procession, so also a great gathering of the Saints accompanies Christ as He ascends. Banners are also carried in imitation of that which is said by Isaiah (11, 12), “And he shall set up a standard unto the nations, and shall assemble the fugitives of Israel, and shall gather together the dispersed of Juda from the four quarters of the earth.” The Church took the carrying of banners and crosses from Constantine, who, when in a dream he saw the sign of the Cross, and heard the words ‘By this sign thou shalt conquer’, ordered the Cross to be marked on his war banners. The fact that in the Litanies the cross-bearer takes his cross from the altar reminds us that Simon of Cyrene took it from Christ’s shoulders.

A Rogation procession held in the village of Balatonderics, Hungary in 2017.
In some places, the litany is done in the fields, so that demons may be expelled from the crops, or rather, so that the crops may be preserved by the Lord. … It has also become the custom that a dragon with a long tail, upright and inflated, should go before the Cross and banners on the first two days, but on the last day, looking back, with its tail deflated and lowered, it follows behind. For this dragon symbolizes the devil, who in three periods, that is, before the law, and under the law, and in the time of grace, which these three days symbolize, has deceived men, and even now seeks to deceive them. In the first two periods, he reigned, and as if he were the lord of the world, had a long tail, which shows his power, and inflated, which symbolizes his pride. For this reason, Christ calls him the prince of this world (John 12, 31) and John says in the Apocalypse (12, 4) that the dragon, falling from heaven, drew with him the third part of the stars, which symbolize people. And the Lord says in the Gospel, “I saw Satan falling like a lightning bolt from heaven” (Luke 10, 18), as a figure of which, on two days he goes at the head … But in the time of grace, he is beaten by Christ, and power is given to the Apostles to cast out unclean spirits; therefore, on the third day he follows after the Cross, to show that his power is lost through the spread of the Faith, and his tail is deflated, and hangs down, and is not long, because he does not dare to reign as mightily as he formerly did, but rather seduces men through suggestion, and in a hidden way, those whom he sees to be lazy and remiss in good works, and who follow not the way of life, as if he were looking back like a thief, to see if someone may wander and fall away from the righteousness of the Faith, so that he can draw that person to himself …

A page from an 1882 scholarly edition of the Sarum Processional, by W.G. Henderson, showing the order of the Rogation procession. The rubric above the image mentions both a dragon and a lion carried in the procession, the latter presumably in reference to the words of Apocalypse 5, 5, “Behold the lion from the tribe of Judah hath conquered.”
On the Litanies, all must abstain from servile labor, … and be present for the procession until the end, so that, just as all have sinned, so all may ask for forgiveness, and all raise their hearts to God, with their hands, that is, raise up their zeal for prayer.

But since on the preceding days, a double Alleluia, is sung, why on these days is only one sung? And again, since Alleluia is not said on other fast days, why is it said on this one? To the first question, we answer that ... a double Alleluia is sung on the preceding days because of the double stole which will be given in the general resurrection, namely, that of the soul and of the body. But the liturgy of Easter, which this signifies, is now finished, and therefore, the cause being taken removed, the effect is also removed . To the second, we answer that on the other fast days, Alleluia is not sung because it is a song of joy, and those fasts are held because of sins, wherefore they are called fasts of mourning; but this fast, and that of Pentecost, are matters of rejoicing, because they are not held for sins, but so that the power of the devil, and the plague, may be removed; and therefore, Alleluia is sung on them.

The Meaning and Customs of Ascension Thursday

Ascension Folio 13v of the Rabula Gospels (Florence)

The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ occurs forty days after Easter (which this year is May 26). According to the Bible, Jesus took His Apostles to Mount Olivet forty days after He rose from the dead where He predicted the coming of the Holy Spirit and told them that they would be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. He was then “lifted up before their eyes, and a cloud took Him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9).

In a previous article, we discussed the meaning of the Collect; today, let us turn to the broader meaning of the feast and some paraliturgical customs that grew out of it.
It is tempting to see the Ascension as a sad occasion, for Jesus in the flesh has left us and we can no longer physically look upon His Holy Face. But the New Testament list several reasons not to lament but to rejoice.
First, Jesus tells us that it is good for Him to leave in order to send the Holy Spirit, who guides us unswervingly back to God (John 16:7).
Second, Jesus not only does not leave us orphans by sending the Paraclete, there is a way in which He never leaves us in the first place. While it is true that Jesus ascended body and soul into Heaven, it is equally true that He is really present in the Eucharist. Saint Luke, whom we believe wrote the Acts of the Apostles (which contains an account of the Ascension) also wrote the third Gospel, which includes the story of the disciples of Emmaus encountering the risen Jesus, where they recognize Him “in the breaking of the bread.” When Jesus of Nazareth walked the face of the earth, He was only visible to a handful of people. When Jesus is present in the Eucharist, billions can look upon His Holy Face behind the sacramental veils.
Third, there is a way in which the Ascension was not the end but the beginning. When Jesus was raised up to Heaven, there was no “Mission Accomplished” celebration, after which the Son of God took a well-deserved vacation. No, His work was just beginning. After passing through the Pearly Gates, the High Priest Jesus Christ entered the Holy of Holies with His own Precious Blood in atonement for our sins. He then took His seat at the right hand of the Father where He continually intercedes for us, pleading for us and showing His merciful Father His still-open wounds. The Ascension is the final—and ongoing—step of the Paschal Mystery, for which we spent all of Lent preparing and all of Eastertide celebrating.
Fourth, the good news about the Ascension is that Heaven is now open to us. Heaven was closed to man after the fall of Adam and Eve; indeed, they were even kicked out of the Garden of Eden. But when the Son returned to the Father, He brought with Him His entire humanity (which He assumed when He became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary). Indeed, it is likely that He brought with Him a whole comet tails of souls which He rescued from Limbo when “He descended into Hell” on Good Friday. As St. John Chrysostom notes:
Through the mystery of the Ascension we, who seemed unworthy of God's earth are taken up into Heaven .... Our very nature, against which Cherubim guarded the gates of [earthly] Paradise, is enthroned today high above all Cherubim.
Our humanity is in Heaven, which makes us sharers in Divinity. Not a bad deal, that!
Pageantry. The Ascension was originally the occasion of long processions that started in the city, exited through the gates, and culminated at the top of a hill, just as Jesus Christ led the Apostles towards Bethany (Luke 24:50). Jerusalem, Rome, and Constantinople all had their preferred routes and destinations. 
Over time, the processions waned and were replaced by pageants, less liturgical or nonliturgical reenactments of Christ's ascending into Heaven. The "pageant" could be as simple as a priest raising a crucifix when he read during the proclamation of the Gospel the verse Assumptus est in caelum (He was taken up into Heaven); such was the custom in Germany. More often than not, full-fledged pageants were performed after Mass but still in the church. In churches with a hole in the ceiling, a statue of Jesus would be hoisted up by ropes and disappear from sight as the people below raised their hands longingly towards it.
Plate with a black crow on it
Food. It was once a custom in Europe to eat fowl on the great Feast of the Ascension  “because Christ ‘flew’ to Heaven.” Pheasants, partridges, pigeons, and even crows found their way to the dinner table—so what does it mean to eat crow on Ascension Thursday? Perhaps this is what the other Apostles served St. Thomas to needle him about his earlier doubts concerning the Resurrection. In any event, bakers in western Germany picked up on the volucrine theme and made far more delicious pastries for the occasion in the shape of various birds. Finally, there is a first-fruits tradition for Ascension Thursday. In some parts of France, apple fritters (beignets des pommes) are a popular choice.
Dos and Don'ts. The English once kept this day with games, dancing, and horse races, while in Central Europe, the idea was to picnic on a high place by hiking there. Mountain-climbing was therefore a yes, but swimming was a big no-no; you were more likely to drown on Ascension Thursday than on any other day of the year. Similar misfortunes awaited anyone who on this holy day worked in field or garden or sewed anything, for any clothing that has been touched by a needle on the Ascension will attract lightning and kill the wearer. Such superstitions are believed to be residues of old pagan fears about demons of death who roam the earth this time of year.
At the very least, these silly beliefs point to something true that is easily forgotten in our own day and age of phrenetic work and moveable feasts, namely, that the Ascension is one of the most important events of the year. If it is important enough to attract the attention of devils, it should be important enough to attract our attention as well and celebrate it with great solemnity, reverence, and joy.[1] Keep holy the Ascension: take off work if you can, assist at Mass even if your diocese has transferred the feast to Sunday, climb a mountain, eat a bird, and avoid bodies of water.
[1] Indeed, according to Blessed Columba Marmion it is, in a certain sense, the greatest Feast of Our Lord of the entire year insofar as it is "the supreme glorification of Christ Jesus" (Christ in His Mysteries, trans. Alan Bancroft [Zaccheus Press, 2008], p. 347).

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Feast of the Translation of Saint Dominic

Our thanks to Mr Calder Claydon for sharing with us this article about one of the proper feasts of the Dominican Rite.

On the Dominican Calendar, May 24 is the feast of the Translation of St Dominic’s relics, the only such feast remaining after the revisions of the early 1960s. Previously, the Dominicans also kept feasts of the translation of St Catherine of Siena on the Thursday after Sexagesima, and before the reforms of St Pius X, of Ss Peter Martyr and Thomas Aquinas. (These latter two were relegated to proper calendars of specific provinces of the Order.) Many other orders have similar feasts, e.g. the Franciscans, who celebrate the translation of their holy founder’s relics tomorrow.
The translation of St Dominic took place in 1233, twelve years after his death at the age of fifty, and only sixteen years after he had officially founded the Order of Preachers at Toulouse in France. The event is described as follows in the Dominican Martyrology:
“At Bologna, the transferal of the body of our Father Saint Dominic. At the time of Pope Gregory IX, his sacred body was transferred to a worthier place. In addition to the other miracles which occurred, his body gave forth an aroma of such great fragrance that all who were present were filled with a wonderful joy. Thus did God beautifully indicate how pleasing to Him was the excelling sanctity of His apostle.”
The tomb of St Dominic in the church of his order, which is also named for him, in Bologna, Italy. Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew OP.
And in the proper Matins lesson (1967) for the feast:
“…there came a delightful perfume which, when the casket was opened, issued forth to gladden the people of Bologna with its all-pervading perfume.”
The second master of the Order, Blessed Jordan of Saxony, wrote thus about this event:
“Present were the venerable Archbishop of Ravenna, surrounded by bishops and a large number of prelates, as well as by a vast multitude of people of different languages who gave remarkable witness to their devotion. Present also was the Bolognese militia, which would not let this holy body, that they considered to be in their safekeeping, be snatched from them. As for the brethren, they were anxious: although they had nothing to fear, they were seized with misgivings lest the body of Saint Dominic, which had lain in a mean tomb exposed to water and heat for such a long period of time, should be found eaten with worms and giving off a foul odor in the same way that might be expected with other corpses, thus destroying the devotion of the people for so great a man. Nonetheless the bishops approached devoutly. The stone that was firmly cemented to the sepulcher was removed with instruments of iron. Within the tomb was a wooden coffin, just as it had been placed there by the venerable Pope Gregory when he was bishop of Ostia. The body had been buried there, and a small hole remained in the top of the coffin. The upper part of the coffin was moved a little bit.
A reliquary of St Dominic’s skull, made in 1338, now kept at the back of the altar shown above. It is still taken out every year for a procession on his feast day.  
As soon as the stone was taken away, the body gave forth a wonderful odor through the opening; its sweetness astonished those present, and they were filled with wonder at this strange occurrence. Everyone shed tears of joy, and fear and hope rose in all hearts. We ourselves also smelled the sweetness of this perfume, and we bear witness to what we have seen and smelt. Eager with love, we remained devotedly near the body of Dominic for a long time, and we were unable to sate ourselves with this great sweetness. If one touched the body with a hand or a belt or some other object, the odor immediately attached itself to it for a long period of time. The body was carried to the marble sepulcher where it would rest—it and the perfume that it poured forth. This marvelous aroma which the holy body emitted was evidence to all how much the saint had truly been the good odor of Christ.”
Fr Simon Tugwell, O.P., notes that Blessed Jordan knew St Dominic personally, and began to write his “Libellus de principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum – Little book on the beginnings of the Order of Preachers” in the same year that the translation occurred, to preserve the memory of St Dominic’s life and legacy.
The Pope Gregory mentioned above testified to the holiness of St Dominic by saying, “I knew him as a steadfast follower of the apostolic way of life. There is no doubt that he is in heaven, sharing in the glory of the apostles themselves.”
As is generally the custom, the feast of the translation of the relics takes most of its liturgical texts from the Saint’s principal feast. The Mass is almost identical to the main feast, except for the following:
The Collect for both feasts of St. Dominic:
O God, who were pleased to enlighten Your Church with the merits and teaching of blessed Dominic, Your confessor and our father; grant, by his intercession, that she may not be wanting in temporal help, and may always increase in spiritual growth: Through our Lord.

Rogation Procession and Mass Tomorrow in Bridgeport, Connecticut

Tomorrow, which is both the vigil of the Ascension and the Wednesday Rogation day, the Oratory of Ss Cyril and Methodius, the Institute of Christ the King’s church in Bridgeport, Connecticut, will have an outdoor Rogation procession at 6 pm, followed by solemn Mass, and then afterwards, a light reception in the church hall. The church is located at 79 Church St.

Six Talks on the Eucharist: A Mystagogical Catechesis by Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen, Scotland

I am grateful to the monks at Pluscarden Abbey, the Benedictine Monastery situated near Elgin in Scotland, for alerting me to the publication on YouTube of a series of talks by Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen on the Eucharist.

Bishop Hugh was previously the abbot of Pluscarden Abbey, where I am an oblate (although I haven’t visited for a long time now, as I live in the United States). Anything from Bishop Hugh is worthy of note and I encourage all readers to investigate.

These talks are intended as a mystagogical catechesis for the faithful of the diocese of Aberdeen, and apply equally well to all forms of the Roman Rite. I have watched the first five and they are a rare treat.

Each link below will take you to a recorded video for the dates in the past. The talk for the future dates will be broadcast live on the day, and then the recording will be uploaded immediately after that. You can access that through the link either live or when posted as a recording.

21 April: The Eucharist in the Christian Worldview

28th April: The Origins of the Eucharist in the Last Supper and Paschal Mystery

5th May: The Introductory Rites of the Mass

12th May: The Liturgy of the Word

19th May: The Eucharistic Prayer

26th May: Holy Communion

2nd June: Living the Mystery

Here is the first recording, an introduction to the series, as a visual link:

Allegory of the Eucharist: anonymous, 18th century
Pluscarden Abbey, Elgin, Scotland

Monday, May 23, 2022

Cathedrals of Mordor and Zen-like Meditation Rooms: Some Churches That Fail as Churches

Saint Ignatius, Tokyo, Japan (Sakakura Associates, 1999)
Last week, we looked at a High Church Anglican theologian's reflections on what makes a church building worthy of being called a church, that is, a spatial representation and habitation of what the church is in its mystical essence (my words, not his).

Since we're on the subject of architecture, which is endlessly fascinating and has not been featured as much as NLM as it used to be, I thought I would take this opportunity to share a remarkable gallery of photos by the French photograph Thibaud Poirier of ultra-modernist churches.

Most of them are impressive for their sheer size, but nearly all of them transmit either a cold, oppressive, sinister feel (as if they were chapels for the religion of Sauron in Mordor) or, on the contrary, a religiously vague, mildly comforting, functionally neutral spaciousness that is artistically far superior to “the Shed” (the name of the space in which the Mars Hill Bible Church meets, which we featured last week) yet lacking for the most part in the qualities that make for a recognizable, inhabitable, incarnational dwelling.

I was particularly struck by how many of these churches were built in the 1950s, well before Vatican II, or at any rate during Vatican II, before the Novus Ordo. It prompted me to wonder if such trends in architecture were a small part of the psychological reason behind simplifying, abbreviating, and modernizing the liturgy, for the simple reason that it's very hard to imagine a solemn Mass in such spaces. It would seem awkward to say the least, and bizarrely out of place. Of course it can be done (and surely was done for a short period of time in these buildings), but I can only think of the tensions involved in, say, a super-minimalist production of Shakespeare on a barren stage with actors all in black, where the Elizabethan language clashes with the plain constumery and the vacuous setting.

Here are a few examples of the sinister ones featured in the gallery, with location, architect, and year of completion: 

Saint Mary's Cathedral, Tokyo, Japan (Kenzo Tange, 1964)

Saint-Rémy de Baccarat, Baccarat, France (Nicolas Kazis, 1957)

Sainte-Thérèse-de-l'Enfant-Jésus, Metz, France (Roger-Henri Expert, 1959)

Saint Joseph, Le Havre, France (Auguste Perret, 1956)

Notre Dame du Royan, Royan, France (Guillaume Gillet, 1958)

Saint Anselm's Meguro, Tokyo, Japan (Antonin Raymond, 1954)

Again, note the dates of these: 1964, 1957, 1959, 1956, 1958, 1954.

And now for a few examples of the more comforting but deistic-agnostic designs:
Église du Saint Esprit, Viry-Châtillon (Anton Korady, 1964)

Kruiskerk, Amsterdam (Marius Duintjer, 1956)

Notre dame du Chêne, Viroflay, France (Louis, Luc and Thierry Sainsaulieu, 1966)

Obviously these structures, unlike Mars Hill, have a permanence, massiveness, and artfulness (in a certain sense) that marks them as important public buildings with religious overtones, but still they seem to thwart their purpose; indeed, the very modernism draws too much attention to itself, and becomes like a Pharisee standing in front and saying: “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like other churches…” Whereas the traditional church design kneels in the back and says: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner like everyone else.”

The photography is brilliant. Some of the churches Poirier photographs are quite inspiring (I have not included here the semi-traditional designs); others, intriguing; still others send chills down the spine. It is clear that no cost was spared in building these edifices, and that they represent something other than mere utility. They are built on a grand scale. Unfortunately, some of them hardly transmit anything of the Christian message and could just as well be United Nations meditation rooms. At their worst, they are cold and terrifying, and would certainly not draw ordinary people in, except those who are curious about feats of modern architecture. One cannot envision Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus there; not even a cozy nook exists to escape into.

Speaking of United Nations, I shared on Facebook not too long ago the following two pictures. The first is of the main hall of the UN; the second is of the Cathedral of Light in Oakland. Family resemblance? What is the message of either building? What is the message of their analogy?

It does no good to pretend that a building is not a silent language and a philosophy embodied.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

An Ambrosian Solemn Mass on the Fifth Sunday after Easter

Thanks to Nicola for reminding me of this video of an Ambrosian Mass celebrated on the Fifth Sunday after Easter in Rome in the year 2003 by the late Monsignor Angelo Amodeo, whose memory is cherished by all those who love the venerable liturgical tradition of the See of Milan. The Mass was sung by the Schola-Sainte Cécile, led by Henri de Villiers, who with their usual diligence, not only learned the Ambrosian Ordinary, but also a polyphonic Mass written specifically for that rite, and as always, sang it very beautifully. I was the first acolyte, and my usual nervous self while serving in a rite which I had only seen a few times before, but Nicola is a very good MC, and steered us through it very well. The church is Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, which had not yet been given to the FSSP in those days. Unfortunately, the video camera was small, and the quality is not that great, but we are nevertheless very blessed to have this record of a very blessed time. (I think this might have been the very first time I ever met the members of the Schola in person.) Haec meminisse certissime juvat!

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The First Ukrainian Printed Book: An Epistle Lectionary of 1574

A few days ago, the YouTube channel of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University posted this video about the oldest printed book in Ukrainian, an Epistle lectionary with the text of the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline and Catholic letters. A friend of mine, Dr Daniel Galadza, who is an expert on the liturgical history of the Ukrainian church, informs me that the book was definitely made for liturgical use, and is not just a section of the Bible. This is why it also has an appendix which includes information about the Sunday antiphons (the chants which begin the Divine Liturgy), according to practices which are still observed to this day in the region of Galicia, which is now partly in western Ukraine, and partly in southern Poland, and at the Pecherskaja Lavra in Kyiv, also known as the Monastery of the Caves.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Pope Francis Mandates Ad Orientem Worship

Our readers will perhaps remember that in 2016, His Eminence Cardinal Robert Sarah, then Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, called upon the Church to return to its authentic custom of offering the Mass ad orientem, as a way of “putting God back at the center” of Christian worship. (Original interview in French here: https://www.famillechretienne.fr/vie-chretienne/liturgie/cardinal-sarah-comment-remettre-dieu-au-caeur-de-la-liturgie-194987.) They will also likely remember that was met with a swift Papal intervention on behalf of retaining the inauthentic custom of worshipping versus populum, which cannot perish soon or thoroughly enough.

This controversy does not impinge solely on the Roman Rite. The Syro-Malabar Church suffered a number of very unfortunate Latinizations in the 20th century, which the Congregation for the Eastern Churches has spent a good deal of time undoing, in obedience to the one decree of Vatican II that the Vatican itself seems to take seriously these days, Orientalium Ecclesiarum. In recent months, this has become such a very sharp controversy that (lamentabile sane dictu!), some members of the faithful even went so far as to publicly burn in effigy the prefect of the Oriental Congregation, H.E. Leonardo Sandri, and the Major Archbishop of the Syr-Malabar Church. H.E. Mar George Alencherry. In January, over 100 Syro-Malabar priests staged a protest and hunger-strike in front of Cardinal Alencherry’s residence in favor of the continuation of the inauthentic custom.

Given the events of 2016 in regard to the Roman Rite, we are very pleased to be able to report via the German website katholisches.info (brought to my attention by Peter) that the Pope has now changed his mind, and ordered the Syro-Malabar in toto to accept the proposed return to the authentic custom of the Church. Like the recent denunciation of the Novus Ordo by Abp Roche, we can only say that this bodes well for the future!

“Pope Francis settled a dispute by ordering that all (Syro-Malabar) diocesesthroughout the Church celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass ad orientem, versus Deum. Together, Francis said, priests and people have to look to the East, from where, according to apostolic tradition, the Second Coming of the Lord is expected. No satire. You read correctly. But how can this be?” Read the full article here: (German is a language which the automatic translator of Google Chrome handles very well.)
His Excellency Mar Joseph Pallikaparampil, bishop emeritus of the Eparchy of Palai in India, celebrates the Holy Qurbana ad orientem in the grotto of St Peter’s basilica in 2015. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Emmanuel Parekkattu, CC BY-SA 4.0)


Edouard Jérôme Paupion, Les Rogations

Immediately before the crescendo of Ascension Thursday, before that triumphant culmination of the Pasch (a time so glorious that it was forbidden to fast), we encounter three days of violet vestments and anxious pleading. For in the traditional Roman rite, the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before the Feast of the Ascension are the Lesser Rogation Days.

What are Rogations? They are times in which entreaties for safety, salvation, and a good harvest are made through a litany to God and the saints. The prayers’ plaintive aspect gives the days their name: “rogation” is from the Latin rogare, to petition earnestly. These litanies are meant to be made during a procession in which the priest blesses his parishioners’ land. The processions were not mandatory, but reciting the litany was required of clerics if they missed them before Mass. Indeed, the word litaneia means essentially the same thing in Greek as the Latin rogare; and so powerful was the association of Rogationtide with processing that they were once called “Gang Days,” from an Old English word for walking.[1]
Rogation procession litany, Holy Cross Catholic Church, Kenya
In the traditional calendar there are two sets of Rogation Days. The first, the “Major” or “Greater” Litanies, are celebrated on April 25th (coincidentally, also the Feast of St. Mark). On that day the ancient Romans held the Robigalia, a procession to appease Robigo, the god of blight. Since the Church had no objection to praying for the harvest, it threw out Robigo and the ribald games held in his honor while keeping the procession; it even kept much of the same route.
The “Minor” or “Lesser” Litanies, as we noted above, are celebrated on the three days preceding Ascension Thursday. While the Major Rogation Day is quintessentially Roman, the Minor Rogations are the product of Gaul, instituted in A.D. 470 by Bishop Mamertus of Vienne in response to a terrifying series of catastrophes (storms, floods, earthquakes, etc.). In cooperation with the civil authorities, Mamertus decreed that the faithful should fast, abstain from servile work, and do penance. The practice soon spread throughout France and Germany, and eventually Charlemagne pressured Pope Leo III to add them to the Roman rite. The Pope acquiesced on condition that the fast be removed; in gratitude the Franks removed theirs as well.[2]
Rogation Procession in Westphalia, Germany, 1992
Universally Christian
Despite the unmistakable stamp of the Latin West, the essence of Rogationtide goes back to the Old Testament, when the cantor would recite something and the congregation would reply with a verse such as “His mercy endureth forever” (Ps. 135). Litanies are the most sensible form of prayer for pedestrians, as they enable both cantor and congregation to catch their breath between verses. The Israelites also prayed for blessings on their crops and homes at certain key points of the year. In fact, two of the three great annual feasts—the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) and of Tabernacles—were related to the harvest.
Christianity retained the spirit of both practices, and rightfully so, as everything in the Old Testament is meant to instruct us on a deeper figurative level in the art of living well.[3]  Litanies such as the Kyrie eleison, for example, were treasured by both Eastern and Western Christians, as were blessings over the fruits of the earth. And processions not only dramatize the radiation of the Light from the Church to the world, they epitomize our status as pilgrims passing through this earthly way station.
Usefully Natural
But the Rogation Days ground us in more than our Catholic heritage. The Major and Lesser Litanies are the only prescribed days in the calendar that are explicitly agricultural and that explicitly concern the all-too-real dangers of natural disasters. While the Ember Days (which we visit in a different article) commemorate nature from the perspective of its four seasons, Rogationtide commemorates nature in relation to man and the city, from his tilling of the soil to his collective aversion of meteorological and seismic calamities. This not only invites a deeper meditation on our stewardship of the earth, it adds a communal dimension to Rogationtide’s acknowledgement of nature as both a source of bounty and potential harm. As one introduction puts it, “the processions are a reminder to feeble man to turn with humility and confidence to the Giver of all good.”[4]
Rogation procession with dragon
The Rogation Days’ roots in the agrarian led to a number of memorable rural customs. In England processions would wind their through field and fen and stop at various stations in order for the priest to read a Gospel and for the laity to fortify themselves with ale and victuals. Because these stations were marked by a cross and because of the cross heading the procession, the Lesser Litanies were sometimes known as “Crosse weke” or Crosstide. On the first two days of Cross week, the processions would be led by the standard of a dragon with a long cloth tail; on the third day the dragon was moved to the back of the procession and his tail cut, symbolizing the expulsion of the demonic from the blessed territory.[5]
Assumption Chapel, Cold Spring, Minnesota
In America the Church probably never hosted such colorful Rogation spectacles, but it does have one story worth telling. In 1876, millions of Rocky Mountain grasshoppers descended upon Minnesota, destroying the year’s crops and laying eggs that would destroy next year’s as well. Minnesota’s governor declared April 26 of the following year a day of prayer and fasting. The Catholic folk of Cold Spring (near St. Cloud) added a vow of their own: if the Blessed Virgin Mary “would rid them of the grasshoppers, they would build a chapel and offer prayers to her for the next fifteen years.”[6] When April 26 arrived,
all businesses, theaters, stores and bars were closed. Churches were filled. Midnight approached, the sky clouded over, and a cold rain began. The wind shifted from the south to the north and the rain turned to heavy snow. The storm raged throughout the following day. The next day, farmers hurried to their fields and found that the vast majority of grasshoppers had been frozen just as they were hatching.[7]
The inscription over the entrance to the Assumption Chapel reads "Mary has been taken up." Two grasshoppers bow in homage to the Queen of Heaven.
True to their word, the people of Cold Spring built Assumption Chapel (a.k.a. Grasshopper Chapel) on a high hill. And every Rogationtide, they would process up to the chapel in gratitude for Our Lady’s protection, up to the front doors and under the archway depicting grasshoppers bowing down to her.
As these stories illustrate, while the Rogation Days stem from the traditions of ancient Rome and Gaul, they are easily “inculturated” into any number of local settings. Perhaps this is why the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) has been promoting Rogation processions for decades. In the 1950s it published booklets such as A Manual of Ceremonies for the Parish Observance of the Rogation Days[8] and pamphlets like “Rogations at Maranatha” that ruminate on the “sacramentality of the land and the spirit of the Church.”[9] The author of the latter was a Mrs. Josephine Drabek who was new to farming as well as Rogationtide, but the experience of both helped her see more clearly “the intimate link between the life of the Church and the cycle of the land.” For, she explains,
The liturgy had given significance and dignity to all our work on the farm, and our life on the land had opened new vistas to our understanding and appreciation of the liturgy.[9]
The Rogations were even allowed to be moved in order to accommodate the inverted seasons below the equator. In the 1950s Pope Pius XII gave permission to some Catholic missions in the Pacific islands to hold major and lesser litanies in October or November.[11]
Jules Breton, "The Blessing of the Fields," 1857
Fostering Community
The Rogation stations in England also marked the boundaries of the parish, and thus the processions took on additional meaning as a parish activity. “Beating the bounds,” i.e., circling the parish territory in procession, was a way of affirming parish identity and fostering charity, and it was an effective occasion for healing old rifts. (This should come as no surprise given the communal dimension we noted above.) Of course, every good thing can be abused. While the processions increased charity within the parish, they sometimes led to scuffles outside it, as when two different parochial processions came into contact![12]  Nevertheless, beating the bounds remained a popular tradition in England despite the Reformers’ condemnation of it as “wholly popish,” which is why high church Anglicans still practice it today.
Blessing the fields on Rogation Sunday (Anglican), Hever, Kent, February 1967
Personally Prayerful
Even if one cannot participate in a procession, the litany and Mass of Rogation (which are the same throughout Rogationtide) are worth praying. In the prescribed Litany of the Saints, God and His holy ones are first invoked in so perfect a theological and historical order that one can survey most of Church history simply by reciting it. The litany then prays for deliverance from a host of physical and spiritual evils, reminding one of the fragility of life. Next, the faithful request a series of blessings, such as a restoration “to the unity of Church all who have strayed from the truth,” “the fruits of the earth,” and “eternal rest to all the faithful departed.” Finally, after chanting or reciting Psalm 69, the priest prays ten collects of exceptional quality. When the litany is finished, the Mass begins, the central theme of which is the efficacy of prayer, especially for the righteous and humble. Thus, the Epistle mentions Elias’ successful prayer for rain and the Gospel contains the passage, “Ask and it shall be given you.” Happily, Holy Church still grants a partial indulgence for praying the Litany of the Saints.
The Lesser Litanies are also a good preparation for Ascension Thursday. Psychologically, it is difficult to maintain the jubilance of Paschaltide for forty consecutive days. The penitential character of Minor Rogation allows for an emotional dénouement so that we may rejoice all the more for the novena from Ascension Thursday to Whitsunday.
The Ebbing Tides of Rogation
Rogation Days were removed from the universal calendar in 1969, but they were not suppressed. The Sacred Congregation of Divine Worship’s General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar from February 14, 1969 states:
In order to adapt the rogation and ember days to various regions and the different needs of the people, the conferences of bishops should arrange the time and plan for their celebration (46).
One can sympathize with the goal: as we saw with Pius XII’s adaptation, in a Church spanning every inhabitable latitude, not every parish will be able to link April 25 or the three days prior to Ascension to their agricultural rhythms, especially not in the southern hemisphere. Yet the CDW also weakened, perhaps inadvertently, the link between Rogationtide and agriculture by allowing adjustments for “the intentions of the petitioners” (47):
the celebrations may be varied, e.g., for rural or for urban settings, and may relate to different themes, like the harvest, peace, the unity of the Church, the spread of the faith, etc.[14]
By contrasting rural and urban and by listing a number of equally valid themes (as opposed to one primary theme and several ancillary), the norms conceivably allow for a Rogation that has nothing to do with the land.
As far as I can tell, however, the U.S. bishops’ conference never arranged a new time and plan for rogations, and so in the few places where the litanies are still practiced, they remain agricultural.[15]  The Catholic Conference of Illinois published its own version of Rogationtide in 1989[16]  while every year the NCRLC continues to receive requests from farming communities for information about the practice. Some rural parishes have become quite ingenious in their methods. According to a 2002 issue of Faith and Family, “in recent years, the Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota, has sent out a priest in a crop-duster plane to sprinkle holy water across the sprawling family farms!”[17]  This news surprised but tickled the chancellor of Fargo when I recently asked him to confirm it, but he did tell me that he could think of three priests in his diocese “just crazy enough to do it.”[18]
On average, contemporary Catholics are ignorant of the Rogation Days, leading us to conclude that something good was lost, and at one of the worst possible times. We live in an age marked by an unprecedented disconnect from the land and by a growing anxiety over it. On one hand, we fret over the barbaric or hazardous treatment of livestock, commercial pesticides, genetically modified foods, the demise of the family farm, and the rise of food cartels (did you know that 80% of the beef market is controlled by only four firms?[19]); and we call for agrarian reform, farm subsidies, the fair treatment of migrant workers, and more organic foods. On the other hand, at no point in American history have so many of us lived away from the farm: we buy our produce in supermarket cellophane and never think it odd that we can eat watermelons in January.
Obligatory traditional Rogation Days are the religious antidote to this schizophrenia. They call all believers, be they city slickers or country bumpkins, to recognize at the same time and in a shared way our common dependency on the land and on God’s mercy for putting food on the table. They ask us to pray for farms and fields and in so doing remind us that there are farms and fields that need praying for. They reconnect us to the soil, which even reconnects us to the bounds of our neighborhood, our parish, and each other. They remind us of the earth’s fragility as well as its awesome powers.
Vatican agencies such as the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace pursue some of these topics with great vim, even at the risk of recommending policies not always thought through; but their impact will always be limited. We have forgotten what Pope Pius XI said when he instituted the Feast of Christ the King:
People are instructed in the truths of faith and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all. The former speak but once, the latter speak every year—in fact, forever.
Well, almost forever. The beautiful springtime processions to Grasshopper Chapel are now a distant memory for the older residents of Cold Spring, but we can hope that some day the annual celebration of these mysteries will again “bring the faithful to a fuller knowledge of their dependence on God for all things... and a greater love of God as their Divine Provider.”[22] In addition to assisting at Mass according to the 1962 Missal where possible, Catholic families can “beat the bounds” of their properties while sprinkling it with holy water and chanting or reciting the litanies (such private paraliturgical perambulations were fairly common in the Middle Ages). Or, they can bless their gardens with holy water in the same manner.

This article, which first appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of The Latin Mass magazine, has been since updated. Many thanks to the editors of TLM for allowing its publication here.

[1] Specifically, the Lesser Litanies (cf. Oxford English Dictionary, “gang-days”).
[2] Francis Weiser, Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1958) pp. 41-42.
[3] See Rom. 15:4, 1 Cor. 10:11.
[4] Diocesan Catholic Rural Life Conference, A Manual of Ceremonies for the Parish Observance of the Rogation Days (National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 1953), p, 5.
[5] Eoman Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 279.
[6] See here.
[7] From the Metro Travel Guide, which is no longer online.
[8] Undated, p. 4. [9] P. 3.
[10] Weiser, Handbook, 42.
[11] Eoman Duffy, Stripping, pp. 136-39.
[12] One wonders, following Pius XII’s example, if the problem could not have been solved by a process of local addition rather than universal subtraction.
[13] Response to the query “How should rogation days and ember days be celebrated?” (http://www.catholicculture.org/library/view.cfm?recnum=5932, retrieved 2/20/08).
[14] This is an interesting confirmation of the principle that omission of a practice in a new liturgical edition does not eo ipso mean its suppression.
[15] Mary Jo Valenziano, Rogation Days (Oak Park, IL: C.E. Dienberg Printing Co., 1989).
[16] “April 25: Major Rogation Day,” Faith and Family Magazine (April 2002), p. 25.
[17] Many thanks to the Very Rev. Brian Moen for his generous time.
[18] A Time to Act: A Report of the USDA National Commission on Small Farms, Jennifer Yezak Molen, Director, January 1998, p. 4.
[19] See Towards a Better Distribution of Land: The Challenge of Agrarian Reform (1989).
[20] Quas Primas, 21.
[21] Bishop William A. O’Connor, D.D., in A Manual of Ceremonies, foreword.
[22] Portions of this article are taken from an earlier treatment of mine posted on the internet under the title, “Ember Days, Rogations Days, and Station Churches,” http://www.holytrinitygerman.org/Ember-Days.html.

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