What exactly are rogation days and ember days? What can we do as individuals and as a parish on these days to pay them proper respect?
The presence “Rogation Days” and “Ember Days” have long existed in the Church’s liturgical calendar – though in present practice these days belong strictly to the calendar for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Each of these days has specific purpose in giving right thanksgiving and worship to God in relationship to receiving His blessings and His protection.
The Ember Days are typically penitential in character (though the week of Pentecost, which is kept as an octave (that is, eight days) to celebrate Pentecost also contains Ember Days – though these are less strictly penitential as the Masses include the “Glory to God”). These days take place at multiple times in the year, including within Advent, Lent, immediately after Pentecost, and in late September – in proximate connection to the beginning of each of the four natural seasons. In the weeks in which they occur, they are kept on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Masses on these days include additional scripture passages and prayers before the Gospel. According to the 1962 Roman Missal, these days are intended as opportunities to give thanks for blessings of the past season while imploring God through penance for further blessings in the season ahead.
Meanwhile, Rogation Days have a history that dates back to the 5th century in France, when a particular bishop instituted a procession meant as a way of offering penance in the wake of natural disasters that had occurred. Later, in the 9th century, these processions along with the accompanying praying of the Litany of Saints, psalms, and other particular prayers that sought to avert natural disaster were made part of the life of the whole Church in part by Pope Leo III who began this
practice in Rome. The name “rogation” is derived from the Latin verb “rogare,” meaning “to ask.” The Rogation Days take place annually during Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the week of the Ascension. In addition to their penitential nature, they also serve to ask God for blessings upon the growing season (intended originally to take place before the season of harvest).
All these days hold in common a real sense of humble trust and dependence upon God who gives us what is truly good. Accordingly, a way to fittingly observe these days is to offer fasts on the days in which they occur for the given intentions of gratitude to God for His blessings and to implore Him for blessings in the future –
particularly blessings pertaining to good weather, fruitful harvest, and sustenance in life. As the Masses offered on these days contain particular prayers pertaining to such penances and thanksgiving, it is good to keep the way of the Mass (as far as possible) by holding the processions on the Rogation Days (or at least by singing/reciting of the litanies and prayers before Mass), and by offering the invited penances on both Rogation Days and Ember Days. As our parish has the offering of Low Mass each Wednesday, we seek to uphold these days to the best of our ability as each one occurs – the next being Ember Wednesday in September (which this year will be on September 19).