The Pre-Vatican II Ritual You Probably Never Heard Of And We Should Definitely Bring Back
What if the church had days specifically designated for God’s great “requests” – forgiveness for transgressions, protection from disasters, protection of crops? If you check the liturgical calendar before Vatican Council II, you will find exactly that: the days of the Rogations. Commemorated on April 25, as well as the three days leading up to Ascension Thursday, these were days that the church dedicated to the prayer of petition (the Latin word terminal means “ask”) focused on addressing physical and spiritual needs, preventing war or pandemic, and soliciting a productive growing season. Before this last year, they might seem overwhelmed; but today, could a spiritual practice be more opportune for our time?
As a prelude to the celebration of a Eucharist on the theme of the petition, the ritual of Rogation Day included a procession during which the Litany of Saints was sung. The litany not only called for the intercessory help of the holy ancestors in the faith, but also expressed a long series of specific intentions. This was followed by the recitation of Psalm 70 (a prayer for deliverance) and additional intercessions and prayers.
Such a collection of prayers after prayers would seem to ignore Jesus’ warning not to be like people “who think they will be heard because of their many words.” After all, Jesus offered the concise prayer we know as Our Father. Yet this group expression of human need ritualizes, however imperfectly, the realization that everything and everyone is connected, and we must have the humility to ask for help. At a time when humbly defending the common good is too often interpreted as a sign of weakness, the revival of Rogation Days can be a necessary antidote.
We can begin these days by asking ourselves: What are some of the human needs and sorrows that are so embarrassing that they require the humility to seek divine assistance? Certainly, our church and our society have no shortage of things to pray about: the plight of essential workers with insufficient wages and insufficient protective equipment; the denigration of immigrants and asylum seekers; the broken treaties with the Amerindians and the preservation of inequalities on the reserves; the systemic racism that allows food deserts, underfunded schools, questionable incarcerations and a dead end process for home loans.
At a time when humbly defending the common good is too often interpreted as a sign of weakness, the revival of Rogation Days can be a necessary antidote.
We can pray about the imperialist policies of the United States; rampant capitalism and overconsumption; denial of global warming; selfishness supporting this denial; and the poor who are the first to suffer the consequences. There is also unequal pay for women, homophobia and prejudice.
Other prayer themes include the tragedy of abortion and the tragedy of the circumstances that force women to make this decision; the sexual abuse crisis of the Roman Catholic Church, liturgical wars, clericalism, self-preservation tactics and the marginalization of women; the Covid-19 pandemics and white supremacy; our inability to deal with any problem that does not immediately affect us.
Even this partial list can be so overwhelming that it immediately leads us to admit defeat. The temptation is to do nothing. But grace suggests the path of humility, the one that obliges us to act. “Ask, and it will be given to you”, however, is not a magical incantation, but rather a profession according to which the only recourse for human weakness, complicity and sin is to rely on the mercy of God and of God. accept its obligations. So how are we going to do intercession?
We need a renewed understanding of petition prayer. When we call on God to help us, we must be ready for God’s unique response. From the burning bush, Moses heard this divine message: “I have observed the misery of my people…. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…. Come, then, I will send you to bring my people out of Egypt. And when the disciples advised Jesus to send away a hungry crowd, he replied, “Give them to eat.” Instead of formulating petitions that focus exclusively on what we ask God to accomplish for us, we must include a request for wisdom and courage to collaborate in this saving work of God.
When we ask God to hear from us, we must be willing to hear God teach us and raise our awareness of how we got into a particular mess and how we can fix it.
When we ask God to hear from us, we must be willing to hear God teach us and raise our awareness of how we got into a particular mess and how we can fix it. One way to express this openness is to be open to hearing God speak to us through others. This could mean that we need to be open to a variety of presidents for our prayers on Rogation days. Maybe he doesn’t always need to be a religious clad in purple damask fabric with an embroidered border, but rather someone who can embody the object of the specific petition: a woman, a woman. person of color, a member of a sexual minority, a survivor of abuse or an essential worker; someone whose lived experience, which may be very different from ours, can teach with an immediacy that challenges our consciences.
Although the early church designated certain times of the liturgical year as Rogation Days, it was also free to proclaim them when needed. It seems wise for a local church to choose a single pressing issue or part of an issue as the central theme of a Rogation day. Other problems of other days may follow, but the goal is “a pure heart” and “a new and righteous spirit” which does not seek someone or something to blame but which activates personal gifts and attendant responsibilities. .
Praying the Litany of Saints draws on the Catholic sensitivity that we evolve within a vast community of love. As many Catholics begin to gather for worship in churches again, it reminds us that we are not alone. We have mentors who pray with us, “The kingdom of God come, the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven. We have models that show us how it’s done.
The genius of Catholic ritual is its attention to bodily experience: for example, moving in a group in procession while singing. But even the use of fewer words can leave room for a silence centered on what the body honestly feels in response to a crisis, such as helplessness, fear or resistance; expansiveness, love or compassion.
Embracing the feelings held by the body helps to discern how the grace of God will move within an individual. The Rogation Day prayer is not a private matter, but it affects each person in a unique way. Sent from this experience of community prayer, some will be challenged to work through their resistance; others will be challenged to put their compassion into action. Living faith calls everyone to act.
Rogation Days are not likely to immediately remedy the ailments, pandemics, and other urgent needs facing the church, the United States, or the world. But they could be the key to meeting one of Jesus’ greatest challenges: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart. “