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Catholic Activity: Family Procession for a Blessing on the Crops

Rogation days, which are no longer prescribed in the universal Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, were an occasion of prayer and fasting instituted by the Church to appease God's anger at man's transgressions, to ask protection in calamities, and to obtain a good and bountiful harvest. The Rogation Days were April 25 and the three days before the feast of the Ascension. They came in the after-season of Easter when morning recalls the Resurrection, and, looking about, we cannot escape the beauty in a world of spring with divine Love showing again in all its fairest things. Even in the city there is beauty. There is a freshness in the air, a newness in the sunlight, a waking of beauty in places one would never seek it. There is an excitement peculiar to spring, as though, watching long enough and quietly enough, we might spy God''s hand moving or glimpse His face. It is His personality that is sensible to us in the spring, sensed in the beauty and color and design and weight and sound of the things of the universe, all of them tasting of what we will find He is in Heaven. There is gladness and joy in God; we know, because He has created daffodils and leopards.

Rogation days were an especially happy occasion for a family celebration. We can also take this time to have our own family procession to pray for God's blessings on our crops. This is something about which all must have a vital concern, since there is no one who does not depend on it to sustain the life that is in him. Whether our food comes from our garden or the freezer at the supermarket, someone had to grow it; and before that God had to plant the mystery of life in the seed, or even the most skillful farmer could not make it yield.

For families who live gardenless in towns or cities, or for those who do not live at home but in rooms or apartments, hospitals, hotels, or rest homes, it is fitting that they join the others with their prayers, even blessing the plants in their flowerpots or window boxes, if they have them.

DIRECTIONS

In the first Canto of Dante''s Inferno there is a description of a morning and a leopard.

The time was at the beginning of the morning; and the sun was mounting up with those stars which were with Him when Divine Love first moved these fair things; so that the hour of time and the sweet season caused me to have good hope of that animal with the gay skin.

This is the feeling of Rogation days, which come in a sweet season and cause us to have good hope. They come in the after-season of Easter when morning recalls the Resurrection, and, looking about, we cannot escape the beauty in a world of spring with divine Love showing again in all its fairest things. Even in the city there is beauty. There is a freshness in the air, a newness in the sunlight, a waking of beauty in places one would never seek it. There is an excitement peculiar to spring, as though, watching long enough and quietly enough, we might spy God's hand moving or glimpse His face.

It is His personality that is sensible to us in the spring, sensed in the beauty and color and design and weight and sound of the things of the universe, all of them tasting of what we will find He is in Heaven. There is gladness and joy in God; we know, because He has created daffodils and leopards.

Rogation days are a time to see God again in things visible, like the new leaves on the trees and the new green of the grass, and in the promise of what is invisible, like the seed buried in the brown earth or the bulb in the flower pot''s drab little womb. And Rogation days are an especially happy occasion for a family celebration.

Rogation comes from the Latin verb rogare: to ask. There are four Rogation days each year. The first, April 25 (feast of St. Mark), was an effort to offset the ancient Roman Robigalio, a celebration with processions and prayers beseeching the god of the harvest. The three Rogation days preceding the feast of the Ascension were established by St. Mamettus, Bishop of Vienne, in Gaul (modern France) about the year 450; these were days of prayer and penance to appease God''s wrath, ask protection from the great calamities, and a blessing on the harvest — both the harvest of the gardens and the harvest of souls, for in either case unless the seed fall on fertile ground it will not yield good fruit.

Today Rogation days are associated mostly with prayer for blessing on the harvest — something about which all must have a vital concern, since there is no one who does not depend on it to sustain the life that is in him. Whether our food comes from our garden or the freezer at the supermarket, someone had to grow it; and before that God had to plant the mystery of life in the seed, or even the most skillful farmer could not make it yield.

The Gospel for the Rogation day Masses is all about parents and children:

Which of you if he ask his father bread, will he give him a stone? or a fish will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he ask an egg, will he reach him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask? (Luke 11:5-13).

On the Sunday before, Our Lord said emphatically: "If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you." We are supposed to ask. We are told to ask. We must not think it unseemly to ask. The Church has gone so far as to prepare special days for asking. It would be nice if one of the parish priests could join the family for the procession, giving the blessing and leading the prayers, but no one will deny the valid claims on his time. So once again the Church exhorts the faithful to give these blessings themselves if their priests cannot be there to give them.

For families who live gardenless in towns or cities, or for those who do not live at home but in rooms or apartments, hospitals, hotels, or rest homes, it is fitting that they join the others with their prayers, even blessing the plants in their flowerpots or window boxes, if they have them. On these days, the voice of the whole Mystical Body prays asking for a fruitful harvest: Christ and clergy and people together as one. The needs of all men must be provided.

>P>In French Canada it is a custom to have a mixture of grains blessed on this morning; after Mass the farmers go up to the sanctuary to get some, so that they may throw a handful in every one of their fields. In city churches attached to monasteries, and in the convents and monasteries elsewhere, the religious have Rogation day processions before Mass. It is nice to pray with them if you live nearby.

A PROCESSION; THE LITANY OF THE SAINTS

In terms of our own daily life, these days relate to the very sandwiches we put in the lunch boxes, the tea in Granny's cup, the boiled egg for Daddy's breakfast. So we have a procession, too. Our children rate processions very high on the list of best things to do, and though our form is not orthodox, what we lack in style we compensate for with enthusiasm. Three or four children prepare large crosses to be carried at the head of the column, and rather than eliminate these, we abound in them, thus simplifying the problem of a shortage of musical instruments. One member is appointed to read blessings. Another member is appointed to lead the Litany of the Saints. Another carries a vessel of holy water and a sprinkler, this made with a cluster of Palm Sunday palms. Small fry play triangles, beat drums and cymbals. The anthems for matching are hymns and Alleluias: then we sing the Litany when we arrive at the garden.

If there are neighbor children around they are invited to come along — and off we go singing.

The Litany of the Saints is a magnificent prayer. There isn't a child who wouldn't love it if he heard it often enough. It is long but full of friendly names; and if the lives of the saints are familiar, the invocations are greeted by beams, whispers, and pokes. It is highly improper, but — we have added to the list St. Monica and St. Christopher, to smooth these two ruffled Newlands who feel the composition of this prayer to have been in the hands of a highly partial board of Fathers.

Preparation is important, however, or halfway through, the pleasure gives way to "Will this never end?" and "How long does this last?" It is a long prayer, but to explore its meaning is more fun than you would think.

"What do you suppose this means: From the snares of the devil, O Lord, deliver us?"

We had taken a long walk with the neighbor children and said part of the Litany going through the woods. Back home in front of the fire we were finishing. Jamie thought a minute. Then, "Well, it means — you know — from the way he plays tricks on you and makes you be bad."

"But how? I mean, how does he play tricks on you and make you be bad? For instance, how does he get you to tell a lie when you weren't even thinking of telling a lie?"

"Oh. You know. Say, let's see. . . . Oh, pretend you were playing ball by a window and the ball went through your hands and broke the window and your brother was right there. He'd do it then. Not real fast, understand, but little and little and little. Like he says: 'Hey, your brother was right there. Hmmmmm. That's an idea. Maybe you could say he did it Then you could see him get heck 'stead of you.'"

John (his brother) nodded vigorously: "Yeah. And all the time chuckling." He demonstrated a brief devil-chuckle.

This sounded very grim indeed; so we repeated with feeling: "From the snares of the devil, O Lord, deliver us!"

We stopped to talk about other meanings now and then.

Through the mystery of Thy Holy Incarnation, O Lord, deliver us. "Who remembers what Incarnation means? No? It means God-and-Man, both in Jesus, Son of Mary, and Second Person in the Blessed Trinity."

"Oh yes. That's right."

Through Thine admirable Ascension we understand. We are preparing for Rogation days, which come three days before Ascension; so who could forget the meaning of this?

Through the coming of the Holy Ghost the Paraclete. That's about Pentecost, another feast Ten days after the Ascension. This is a season of great feasts!

That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to humble the enemies of Holy Church, we beseech Thee hear us. "Can anyone think of something to explain this one?"

No one can. But the grownups do. On the wall is a little picture of Bishop Ford who died in prison in China, and a snapshot of Sister Jean Marie and Sister Rita Marie who were also in prison, for no reason except they loved God and had given their lives to Him. They were locked away so that they could no longer teach the people of China about the dear God who loves them, who died to save them. Many more were in prison with them. Many still are.

The enemies of Holy Church are those who try to prevent the teaching that Our Lord commanded when He said to His Apostles: "Go ye forth teaching all nations." He left them this command just before He ascended into Heaven. To pray that His enemies be humbled means that we ask they see the error and sin in their deeds, see the truth, be sorry for their sins against Christ and His Mystical Body.

One of the neighbor children was wide-eyed. "But you said we were supposed to love everyone. How can you love such people as that?"

We talked more, about the Passion and Death of Our Lord, and how He said to His Father at the end: Forgive them Father, they don't know what they are doing. It is because they do not know Christ that they do these things — in China and Indo-China, in Siberia, in Russia, in South Africa, in South America, in our own land also, in Europe, wherever men work to destroy the Church because they know that she is a source of holiness. We must hate what is sinful, but love the ones who sin, for Jesus' sake, pray for them, sacrifice for them, hope for their conversion.

We covered much doctrine in this conversation. It is one thing to talk about all this in the words of the catechism. It is another to talk about it while you walk through the woods, scramble over stone walls, watch His frogs jump into His brook, or sit at home snug up to a grownup who loves you, and gaze into the fire. It is so much easier to see the beauty in all these truths if you learn about them while you are enjoying yourself.

But this was to be about Rogation days. . . .

THE BLESSINGS

After the Litany (in our procession) we read the Blessing of the Sprouting Seed — or I should say, Grandma Reed reads it. She is the Grandma with the green thumbs.

Blessing of the Sprouting Seed
V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.
Let us pray. To Thee, O Lord, we cry and pray: Bless this sprouting seed, strengthen it in the gentle movement of soft winds, refresh it with the dew of heaven, and let it grow to full maturity for the good of body and soul. (From With the Blessing of the Church, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, Des Moines.)

How many times might not the damping off of seedlings be avoided by the Blessing of the Sprouting Seed! Man must look so funny, knee-deep in dusts, powder, sprays, and techniques to ward off pests and diseases, and all the while neglecting to ask God's help first.

Strengthen it in the gentle movement of soft winds, refresh it with the dew of heaven. This is like feeling His breath in your face, catching the drops of water that fall from His hand. For children it is a magnificent lesson in detachment. It hems all the world in springtime in the arms of the Father and makes every leaf and sprout a miracle.

We send our blessing from crop to crop. Over the potatoes, the corn, the beans, the peas Monica sprinkles holy water generously. Grandma reads the blessing again over a side garden where small children are hauled out of carrots and beets; and someone points out where one lad sowed lettuce in a fit of temper.

"As you sow, so shall you reap" — apropos here, where lettuce is coming up every which way, plainly scattered to the four winds by an angry fist. Gracious! This is telltale evidence of misdeeds, and humiliating too, now that he can no longer remember why he was angry. It will serve for a long time as a reminder that every angry word and thrust sent into the world makes a difference, increases its disorder. The rows that were planted with love are neat and straight. It is a good contrast between love and anger.

We progress to Grandma's fruit trees and vines, some from Sister Juliana's garden at Maryknoll. She reads with feeling the Blessing of Young Crops and Vineyards.

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.
Let us pray. We appeal to thy graciousness, O almighty God, that thou wouldst shower thy blessing upon these first-fruits of creation, which thou hast nurtured with favorable weather, and mayest bring them to a fine harvest. Grant also to thy people a sense of constant gratitude for thy gifts, so that the hungry may find rich nourishment in the fruits of the earth, and the needy and the poor may praise thy wondrous name. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Sprinkle with holy water.)

At each little group of fruit trees and grape vines, new berry bushes, transplants, she reads — and we are startled to hear the quiet passion as she improvises before the pear tree: ". . . we ask Thee in Thy fatherly love to pour down the rain of Thy blessing on this poor little pear tree which that wicked goat has tried so many times to eat. . . !"

Ah — Helen. Indeed she has, and many's the time Grandma has hinted we might better read the Prayer Against Harmful Animals over Helen each spring before it is too late for the Blessing of Young Crops. . . . What Helen strips off in five minutes of truancy it takes God a full year to grow back again. We sigh and recall that it is a fallen world, and that is why we need prayers about rain, please, and sun, please, and if You please, not so many cutworms this year?

We finish, and the boys drive the crosses in place at points of vantage, while Monica makes her palm brush into a cross and nails it on the big sugar maple that overlooks the garden.

There is a Blessing of Crosses to Be Placed in Fields and Vineyards to be given on May 3, the feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross.

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.
Let us pray. Almighty, everlasting God, Father of goodness and consolation, in virtue of the bitter suffering of thy Sole-Begotten Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, endured for us sinners on the wood of the Cross, bless these crosses which thy faithful will erect in their vineyards, fields, and gardens. Protect the land where they are placed from hail, tornado, storm, and every assault of the enemy, so that their fruits ripened to the harvest may be gathered to thy honor by those who place their hope in the holy Cross of thy Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, Who liveth and reigneth with thee eternally. Amen.
(Sprinkle crosses with holy water.)

If only we had known! This is the answer to the fence-jumping cows. And ought not the blessing be part of every year now that we have had our experiences with New England floods!

Processions are satisfying. There are days during the long summer out of school when there is nothing quite like a procession to suit the mood. Sometimes they celebrate the feast of a patron saint, and sometimes they are just manifestations of a restless spirit that wants to praise (I should say, a number of restless spirits).

The Canticle of the Three Youths is a pattern of praise found in the Book of Daniel. With a motley array of musical instruments, the children will swing along the pastures, around old trees, down by the brook shouting and banging on oatmeal boxes, pot lids, tissue paper on combs, blowing through the tubes from the paper towelling. Very good children get to use the triangle, the real cymbals, the harmonicas — if they can find them.

All ye puffballs, praise the Lord.
All ye tadpoles, praise the Lord.
All ye minnows and frogs, birds and bugs, praise the Lord.
All ye bushes and trees, flowers and weeds, praise the Lord. . . .

The echo praises the Lord, the children praise the Lord, the everlasting hills praise the Lord. It is easy to understand at times like these the "desire of the everlasting hills," and the fields and the sky and the trees, and what St. Paul meant when he wrote that they groaned and travailed until the day when they too would be restored to harmony.

Activity Source: Year and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1956

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