Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Major Rogation Day (Greater Litanies): Fasting and Abstinence

Today is April 25, the Feast of St. Mark, and the Major Rogation. While no longer required after Vatican II, Rogation Days can still (and should) be observed by the faithful. I encourage my readers to observe these days. Fasting and penance were required, and the faithful would especially pray Litanies on this day.

Not until relatively recently, it was a requirement that this day was kept with two conventual Masses where choral obligation existed.  The first, post tertiam, was the festive Mass of St. Mark the Evangelist.  The second post nonam was the more penitential Mass formula of Rogation tide.  For those bound to the Divine Office, the Litany was mandatory today.

What are Rogation Days?

"Rogation Days are the four days set apart to bless the fields, and invoke God's mercy on all of creation. The 4 days are April 25, which is called the Major Rogation (and is only coincidentally the same day as the Feast of St. Mark); and the three days preceding Ascension Thursday, which are called the Minor Rogations. Traditionally, on these days, the congregation marches the boundaries of the parish, blessing every tree and stone, while chanting or reciting a Litany of Mercy, usually a Litany of the Saints" (1)

More information:
Image Source: Last Day of Pompeii by Karl Pavlovich Bryulo, 1833



From
The Liturgical Year
by Dom Guéranger, O.S.B.
This day is honoured in the Liturgy by what is called Saint Mark’s Procession. The term, however, is not a correct one, inasmuch as a procession was a privilege peculiar to April 25 previously to the institution of our Evangelist’s feast, which even so late as the sixth century had no fixed day in the Roman Church. The real name of this procession is The Greater Litanies. The word Litany means Supplication, and is applied to the religious rite of singing certain chants whilst proceeding from place to place in order to propitiate heaven. The two Greek words Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy on us) were also called Litany, as likewise were the invocations which were afterwards added to that cry for mercy, and which now form a liturgical prayer used by the Church on certain solemn occasions.

The Greater Litanies (or processions) are so called to distinguish them from the Minor Litanies, that is, processions of less importance as far as the solemnity and concourse of the faithful were concerned. We gather from an expression of St. Gregory the Great that it was an ancient custom in the Roman Church to celebrate, once each year, a Greater Litany, at which all the clergy and people assisted. This holy Pontiff chose April 25 as the fixed day for this procession, and appointed the Basilica of St. Peter as the Station.

Several writers on the Liturgy have erroneously confounded this institution with the processions prescribed by St. Gregory for times of public calamity. It existed long before his time, and all that he did was to fix it on April 25. It is quite independent of the feast of St. Mark, which was instituted at a much later period. If April 25 occur during Easter week, the procession takes place on that day (unless it be Easter Sunday), but the feast of the Evangelist is not kept till after the octave.

The question naturally presents itself—why did St. Gregory choose April 25 for a procession and Station in which everything reminds us of compunction and penance, and which would seem so out of keeping with the joyous season of Easter? The first to give a satisfactory answer to this difficulty was Canon Moretti, a learned liturgiologist of the eighteenth century. In a dissertation of great erudition, he proves that in the fifth, and probably even in the fourth, century, April 25 was observed at Rome as a day of great solemnity. The faithful went, on that day, to the Basilica of St. Peter, in order to celebrate the anniversary of the first entrance of the Prince of the Apostles into Rome, upon which he thus conferred the inalienable privilege of being the capital of Christendom. It is from that day that we count the twenty-five years, two months, and some days that St. Peter reigned as Bishop of Rome. The Sacramentary of St. Leo gives us the Mass of this solemnity, which afterwards ceased to be kept. St. Gregory, to whom we are mainly indebted for the arrangement of the Roman Liturgy, was anxious to perpetuate the memory of a day which gave to Rome her grandest glory. He therefore ordained that the Church of St. Peter should be the Station on that auspicious day. April 25 comes too frequently during the octave of Easter that it could not be kept as a feast, properly so called, in honour of St. Peter’s entrance into Rome; St. Gregory, therefore, adopted the only means left of commemorating the great event.

But there was a striking contrast resulting from this institution, of which the holy Pontiff was fully aware, but which he could not avoid: it was the contrast between the joys of Paschal Time and the penitential sentiments wherewith the faithful should assist at the procession and Station of the Great Litany. Laden as we are with the manifold graces of this holy season, and elated with our Paschal joys, we must sober our gladness by reflecting on the motives which led the Church to cast this hour of shadow over our Easter sunshine. After all, we are sinners, with much to regret and much to fear; we have to avert those scourges which are due to the crimes of mankind; we have, by humbling ourselves and invoking the intercession of the Mother of God and the Saints, to obtain the health of our bodies, and the preservation of the fruits of the earth; we have to offer atonement to divine justice for our own and the world’s pride, sinful indulgences, and insubordination. Let us enter into ourselves, and humbly confess that our own share in exciting God’s indignation is great; and our poor prayers, united with those of our holy Mother the Church, will obtain mercy for the guilty, and for ourselves who are of the number.


A day, then, like this, of reparation to God’s offended majesty, would naturally suggest the necessity of joining some exterior penance to the interior dispositions of contrition which filled the hearts of Christians. Abstinence from flesh meat has always been observed on this day at Rome; and when the Roman Liturgy was established in France by Pepin and Charlemagne, the Great Litany of April 25 was, of course, celebrated, and the abstinence kept by the faithful of that country. A Council of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 836, enjoined the additional obligation of resting from servile work on this day: the same enactment is found in the Capitularia of Charles the Bald. As regards fasting, properly so called, being contrary to the spirit of Paschal Time, it would seem never to have been observed on this day, at least not generally. Amalarius, who lived in the ninth century, asserts that it was not then practiced even in Rome.

During the procession, the Litany of the Saints is sung, followed by several versicles and prayers. The Mass of the Station is celebrated according to the Lenten Rite, that is, without the Gloria in excelsis, and in purple vestments.

We take this opportunity of protesting against the negligence of Christians on this subject. Even persons who have the reputation of being spiritual think nothing of being absent from the Litanies said on St. Mark’s and the Rogation Days. One would have thought that when the Holy See took from these days the obligation of abstinence, the faithful would be so much the more earnest to join in the duty still left—the duty of prayer. The people’s presence at the Litanies is taken for granted: and it is simply absurd that a religion rite of public reparation should be one from which almost all should keep away. We suppose that these Christians will acknowledge the importance of the petitions made in the Litanies; but God is not obliged to hear them in favour of such as ought to make them and yet do not. This is one of the many instances which might be brought forward of the strange delusions into which private and isolated devotion is apt to degenerate. When St. Charles Borromeo first took possession of his see of Milan, he found this negligence among his people, and that they left the clergy to go through the Litanies of April 25 by themselves. He assisted at them himself, and walked bare-footed in the procession. The people soon followed the sainted pastor’s example. 

6 comments:

April 25, 2012 at 9:15 AM
Anonymous said...

Matthew - Your title states "Fasting and Abstinence" but I cant find any reference to abstinence on this day at FishEaters or The Catholic Encyclopedia. It also doesn't appear this way on my Angelus Press calendar. Can you please help provide some direction on this? Thanks.
Mark

April 25, 2012 at 9:39 AM
Matthew said...

The Catholic Encyclopedia makes reference to the fasting. It is not on the Angelus Press Calendar because the mandatory fast was removed even before Vatican II.

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13110b.htm

April 25, 2012 at 10:52 AM
Anonymous said...

Matthew - Thanks. I had checked The Catholic Encyclopedia link you provided before asking you about abstinence. I assume from your response it's OK to eat meat tonight after Mass for my namesake Saint :-) Is that correct?
Mark

April 25, 2012 at 11:38 AM
Matthew said...

Certainly, Mark. The abstinence and fasting were long ago suppressed. While I encourage them to be kept, you are certainly able (and appropriately should) eat meat in honor of St. Mark.

April 25, 2012 at 1:32 PM
NBW said...

Matthew, thanks for the post. Can we the lay people bless our own gardens with holy water and recite the Litany of the Saints or does it require a priest?

April 25, 2012 at 1:35 PM
Matthew said...

Using holy water to bless your own garden while praying the Litany of Saints is a most commendable practice. In this era, it is not uncommon for parents to bless their children or to bless the St. John's Eve Bonfire in the absence of a priest. By this same logic, a layperson could bless his own garden and pray the Litany. It would be another matter if a layperson were to go around town and bless everyone's gardens as part of a procession. This latter example would be for the jurisdiction of a priest alone.

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