As referenced (or at least alluded to — my bad) two weeks ago, today, tomorrow and Wednesday are minor Rogations. In case you happen to be new to this and might see a video clip on the 24-hour news networks (usually from Brazil, the current keeper of the flame), Fr. Leonard Goffine offers some insight, in Douay Catechism-style Q&A format:
What are processions?
Processions are solemn religious assemblages of persons marching together, and are instituted by the Catholic Church partly to encourage the piety of the faithful, partly in remembrance of graces received, and in thanksgiving for them. Processions are approved of by the Fathers of the Church from the earliest ages. Those who take part in them in a true spirit will reap wholesome fruit of Christian piety.
Are processions something new?
No, they were the custom in the very earliest centuries of the Church, as testified by the acts of the martyrs, of Saints Cyprian, Lucius, Boniface, and the Fathers of the Church, Saints Basil, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Gregory, and others. They are also founded on Scripture. Thus King David caused the ark of the covenant to be carried in solemn procession to Jerusalem, (II Kings VI.) and Solomon, his son, had it carried in solemn procession into the new temple. (III Kings VIII. 1-6.)
What do processions signify?
They are a powerful incentive to fervor in prayer for the faithful; when hundreds, even thousands of faithful praise God aloud, or cry to Him for help and mercy, must not even the coldest heart be roused to vivid, fervent devotion, since Christ has promised to be present even where two or three are assembled in His name? Processions are a figure of the pilgrim life of the Christian on earth; we are strangers and wanderers here below, our journey reaches from this valley of tears to the heavenly Sion; the procession therefore returns into the house of God; our journey leads over the thorny ways of life, and the procession therefore takes place in the open air, where the pilgrim is exposed to all kinds of weather; processions are an open acknowledgment that to the Almighty God alone praise, thanks and adoration are due, while they are a public profession of our faith in Christ, the Crucified; they are a solemn thanksgiving for being permitted to profess Christ, our Lord, before the whole world, as also for all the graces obtained through Him; they are a public testimonial of our faith in the one, holy, Catholic Church, whose members are united by the same bond of faith, and who form under their head, Christ, one family in God. […] Finally, they are a sign of the triumph of Christian faith over the darkness of heathenism. If processions are solemnized with such intentions, with order and dignity, with fervent devotion, in the light of faith, they are indeed a pleasing sight for angels and men, soon silencing the sneers and derision of faithless men.
Why are banners and the cross carried in procession?
The cross signifies that we are assembled as Christians, in the name of Jesus, in whose name we begin and end our prayers, through whose merits we expect all things from the Heavenly Father, and whom we must follow all through our journey to heaven; the red and white banners indicate that we must walk in all innocence under the banner of Christ, and fight unto death against sin, against the world and the devil, and be as ready as were the martyrs to give our life for our faith; the blue banners indicate that we must walk the road of self-denial and mortification, with really humble and penitent feelings for our sins. The banners are also emblematic of Christ’s victory over death and hell, and of the triumph of His religion over the pagans and Jews.
Why do we go around the fields in processions?
To beg the merciful God to bless the fields with His fatherly hand, to give and preserve the fruits of the earth, and. as He fills the animals with blessings, and gives them food at the proper time, so may He give to as also our necessary food.
What is the origin of the procession on St. Mark’s day and on Rogation Days?
The procession on St. Mark’s day was instituted even before the time of Pope Gregory the Great (607) who, however, brought it into fervent practice, “in order,” as he says, “to obtain, in a measure forgiveness of our sins.” The same pontiff introduced another, called the “sevenfold procession,” because the faithful of Rome took part in it in seven divisions, from seven different Churches, meeting in the Church of the Blessed Virgin. It was also named the Pest Procession, because it was ordered by St. Gregory to obtain the cessation of a fearful pestilence which was at that time raging in Rome, and throughout all Italy, which so poisoned the atmosphere that one opening his mouth to sneeze or gape would suddenly fall dead; (hence the custom of saying “God bless you,” to one sneezing, and of making the sign of the cross on the mouth of one who gapes). In this procession the picture of the Blessed Virgin, which according to tradition was painted by St. Luke, was carried by order of the Pope, that this powerful mother might be asked for her intercession, after which the pestilence did really cease.. It is said that the processions in Rogation Week owe their origin to St. Mamertus, Bishop of Vienne in France; in the neighborhood of which city there were, in the year 469, terrible earthquakes which caused great destruction, the fruits perished and various plagues afflicted the people; the saintly bishop assembled the faithful, recommended them to seek refuge in the merciful God, and led them in procession around the fields. Such processions spread over France, and gradually throughout the Christian Church; they are held in order to obtain from God the averting of universal evils, such as war, famine, and pestilence, and are, at the same time, a preparation for the Ascension of Christ who is our most powerful mediator with His Father, and whom we should invoke especially during these days.
With what intentions should we take part in a procession?
With the intention of glorifying God, of thanking Him for all His graces, and of obtaining aid and comfort from Him in all our corporal and spiritual needs; with the view of professing our faith openly before the whole world, and with the sincere resolution of always following Christ, the Crucified, in the path of penance and mortification. He who entertains other intentions and takes part, perhaps, for temporal advantages, or for sinful pleasures, or to avoid labor, &c., sins against God and the Church who weeps over and condemns such abuses.
With all the geological and meteorological calamaties that have plagued us recently, perhaps it’s time to question the modern Church’s abandonment of Rogation days.
You have the prayers. See to it!