ROGATION DAYS or CROSS DAYS
The first Rogation procession was made 1,500 years ago, and its litanies and antiphons were meant to avert God's anger from his people and to call down his blessing on the fruits of the fields. It is not strange that the procession came gradually to make its way over fields and meadows and ploughed land, in fact throughout the whole of the parish. In seaside parishes these processions included prayers for the harvest of the sea and they probably made their way along the sands or cliffs.
In some places the Rogation days were called the Cross days, probably because the procession halted every so often at certain crosses or at certain trees marked with a cross, at which the priest read from the New Testament before the crowd took up the litanies and antiphons once more.
Children in the procession carried green boughs, the girls decorated themselves with flower garlands, the men carried banners and a cross. All the streets were hung with green branches.
In Staffordshire by the early 18th century, the processioning had taken a rather different form; the whole village went out on the three days, led by the children, who bore long poles decorated with every sort of flower, and all together they sang over and over again the psalm: "All ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord."
There are not many processions now over the fields on Rogation days; still, after our answering the litanies at Mass, we might spend the days in something of the old spirit. In a school or club we could have a procession like that once prevailing in Staffordshire,
and thus call on all the created things of God to bless him.
Certainly night or morning prayers might include one or more of the Church's prayers for the fruits of the earth; particularly if those who pray have a garden:
"We implore thy blessing, Almighty God, that thou wilt deign to nourish this earth with temperate winds, to pour over it like a shower of rain thy gracious blessings, granting to thy people to give thanks to thee eternally for thy gifts."
St. Luke tells us that Christ, after he had eaten a meal in the Cenacle, led the whole troop of apostles through the city on the last journey he would make upon earth, and "...when he had led them as far as Bethany he lifted up his hands and blessed them; and even as he blessed them he parted from them and was carried up into heaven." It is easy to understand why on Ascension day the priest led the people in solemn procession before Mass, that this last walk of Christ's might be remembered.
Since this procession has fallen into disuse, one could make a solitary visit to a church during the day. The apostles, of course, saw Christ going before them. But if we cannot, we have no less certainty that he is with us, closer than he was to any of the apostles on that first Ascension day. During that walk to the church we can do what the apostles did--praise and bless God and thank him for the holy Spirit whom he is going to send us.
A custom has survived in some parts of this country of opening the New Testament at random on this day, considering that in the page chosen there may be, as it were, some final message from Jesus as he makes his way back into heaven. Each one in turn opens the New Testament and reads the whole chapter he has lighted on, while the rest of the family or group help him to make that chapter practical for himself.
-A Candle is Lighted, Imprimatur 1945 -