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Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Vigil of the Ascension
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Rogation Day procession, circa 1945, at Portsmouth Abbey
Introit

He heard my voice from His holy temple, alleluia: and my cry before Him came into His ears, alleluia, alleluia. -- (Ps. 17. 2, 3). I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength: the Lord is my firmament, my refuge and my deliverer. V.: Glory be to the Father . . . -- He heard my voice from His holy temple . . .

Traditional Epistle (1962 Missal): Ephesians 4. 7-13

Brethren, To every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the giving of Christ. Wherefore He saith: Ascending on high, He led captivity captive; He gave gifts to men. Now, that He ascended, what is it, but because He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He gave some Apostles, and some Prophets, and other some Evangelists, and other some Pastors and Doctors, for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, fo the edifying of the body of Christ; until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ

Gospel: John 17. 1-11

At that time, Jesus lifting up His eyes to heaven said: Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son may glorify Thee, as Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He may give eternal life to all whom Thou hast given Him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent. I have glorified Thee on the earth; I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do; and now glorify Thou Me, O Father, with Thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with Thee. I have manifested Thy Name to the men whom Thou hast given Me out of the world. Thine they were, and to Me Thou givest them, and they have kept Thy word. Now they have known that all things which Thou hast given Me are from Thee: because the words which Thou gavest Me, I have given to them: and they have received them, and have known in very deed that I came out from Thee, and they have believed that Thou didst send Me. I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them whom Thou hast given Me; because they are Thine: and all My things are Thine, and Thine are Mine: and I am glorified in them. And now I am not in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to Thee.

The Ascension of Christ painting by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

Reflection:

The Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Thursday are referred to as the Minor Rogation. These days have their origin back in 470 AD by Bishop Mamertus of Vienna.  In time, they were eventually adopted as part of the Church's Universal Calendar.

The Wikipedia entry for Rogation Days is rather correct when it states:
The word "Rogation" comes from the Latin verb rogare, meaning "to ask", and was applied to this time of the liturgical year because the Gospel reading for the previous Sunday included the passage "Ask and ye shall receive" (cf. John 16:24). The Sunday itself was often called Rogation Sunday as a result, and marked the start of a three-week period (ending on Trinity Sunday), when Roman Catholic and Anglican clergy did not solemnize marriages (two other such periods of marital prohibition also formerly existed, one beginning on the first Sunday in Advent and continuing through the Octave of Epiphany, or 13 January, and the other running from Septuagesima until the Octave of Easter, the Sunday after Easter).
For hundreds of years, the Faithful would observe these Minor Rogations - the 3rd of which occurs on the Vigil of the Ascension - by prayer and fasting.  At this time, it is customarily to have the crops in one's fields blessed by a priest in violet colored vestments.  Rogation Days were characterized by the Rogation procession in which parishioners, led by the minister, churchwarden, and choirboys, would proceed around the boundary of their parish and pray for its protection in the forthcoming year.

According to the great Church Father, St. Augustine, the Feast of the Ascension is of Apostolic origin.  As early as the fifth century, documentation of this feast is preserved.  The Pilgrimage of Aetheria speaks of the vigil of this feast and of the feast itself, as they were kept in the church built over the grotto in Bethlehem in which Christ was born

Since the 15th century (at the time of His Holiness Leo III) and up until the Second Vatican Council, the Ascension had an associated Octave attached to it for the Church – and the faithful – to prepare for the Feast of Pentecost.  Predating this octave is the long established practice of having a Vigil for the Ascension. 

While the Feast of the Ascension – despite its high rank as one of the most important holy days in the year – has fallen into obscurity and lack of observance in many areas, it is still a public holiday in many countries.  In some countries (at least in Austria, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany (since the 1930s), Haiti, Iceland, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Namibia, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Vanuatu) it is a public holiday.

Today is a day of penance in preparation for our Lord’s triumphant entry into Heaven tomorrow and the conclusion of Pascaltide. 

As a final reminder for the importance of this Rogation Day, let us read from the words of the great liturgist Dom Guéranger, O.S.B.:
The Rogation days were instituted for another end besides this of averting the divine anger. We must beg our heavenly Father to bless the fruits of the earth; we must beseech Him, with all the earnestness of public prayer, to give us our daily bread. “The eyes of all,” says the psalmist, “hope in Thee, O Lord! And Thou givest them food in due season. Thou openest Thy hand, and fillest with blessing every living creature.” In accordance with the consoling doctrine conveyed by these words, the Church prays to God, that He would, this year, give to all living creatures on earth the food they stand in need of. She acknowledges that we are not worthy of the favour, for we are sinners. Let us unite with her in this humble confession; but, at the same time, let us join her in beseeching our Lord to make mercy triumph over justice. How easily could He frustrate the self-conceited hopes, and the clever systems of men! They own that all depends on the weather; and on whom does that depend? They cannot do without God. True, they seldom speak of Him, and He permits Himself to be forgotten by them; but “He neither sleepeth nor slumbereth, that keepeth Israel.” He has but to withhold His blessing, and all their progress in agricultural science, whereby they boast to have made famine an impossibility, is of no effect. Some unknown disease comes upon a vegetable; it causes distress among the people, and endangers the social order of a world that has secularized itself from the Christian law, and would at once perish, but for the mercy of the God it affects to ignore.

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