By l'Abbé Bérenger Saunière, priest of Rennes-le-Château 1885-1909
The concept of Rogation and Litany, how established, how divided
1 The word Rogation (from the Latin "Rogationes") means prayer or supplication. Rogations are indeed public prayers which are said in solemn procession during the three days immediately preceding the Feast of the Ascension. Those prayers that are recited or chanted are called Litanies.
Litany comes from the Latin word "Litania", which means prayer, supplication, invocation.
The name Litanies was formerly given to the invocation - several times repeated "Kyrie eleison", with which the Mass of the Catechumens began. In the Latin Church the same name was given to a series of invocations sung before the Collect, which the Eastern churches called "irenic prayers", i.e. prayers for peace. For a long time now Litanies have been understood to mean more a series of invocations to God, the Blessed Virgin and the Saints.
2 Finally, Major Litanies are the processionals on St. Mark's Day, April 25th, while the Minor Litanies are those said on the three days of Rogations.
3 - The Major Litanies were instituted by Pope St Gregory the Great. Several historians report that, in 589, there was a flood in Rome so great that water rose all the way up to the roof of the Temple of Nero, and that when the waters subsided they left behind such a foul sediment and such an extraordinary quantity of snakes that a violent plague resulted. Pope Pelagius was himself a victim, along with a crowd of other people of all ages and both sexes. His successor, St Gregory the Great, ordered a solemn procession with the aim of assuaging God's wrath. This procession was called the "Septiform", because the faithful were divided into seven sections, which were all to process to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore while addressing prayers and supplications to Heaven. All of them were adorned in sackcloth and ashes. After a few days the plague ceased, and St Gregory in thanksgiving ordered that the same procession be repeated every year from that date. The second Council of Aachen, held in 802, fixed it on April 25th the feast-day of St Mark.
The Minor Litanies were established by the Archbishop of Vienne in Gaul, Saint Mamertus, in 474. This is confirmed by Sidonius Apollinaris in a letter to Aper, by Gregory of Tours, and by St Avitus, who was the successor of St Mamertus
Here are the events that gave rise to this institution:
The province of Vienne in Gaul was plagued by various afflictions: frequent fires, earthquakes, phenomena appearing during the darkness of night, and strange voices which seemed to threaten imminent destruction to the whole world. The animals in the forests left their burrows and crept towards the walls of the cities, striking fear into the hearts of their inhabitants. These calamities could only be explained as revenge by a wrathful God. People were terrified that the catastrophe of Sodom might be repeated. Easter was approaching: the night before Easter the large church in Vienne was set ablaze by a raging fire just at the moment when the people were gathered there. Everyone fled. Only the intrepid Bishop Mamertus remained at the feet of the sacred altars and by the fervour of his prayers, accompanied by many tears, he managed to persuade Heaven to stop the fire, and so the church was saved.
Upon hearing this news the people returned to the church. It was upon this very night that St Mamertus conceived the idea of establishing Rogations to thank God and to prevent similar misfortunes in the future. He fixed the first celebration of them in the days preceding the Feast of the Ascension. They were celebrated with processions lasting three days.
From the church of Vienne in Gaul this devotion passed into the Lower Auvergne and from there to all the Churches of Gaul. It was then adopted by the universal Church.
Leo III established it in Rome in 816. Since the procession wended its way to the Basilica di Santa Maria Minore [also known as Santa Maria delle Rose] it was given the name of the Minor Litanies to distinguish it from that of St. Gregory the Great, which of course had processed to Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
In days gone by, abstinence was observed on St. Mark's Day. Historical point: in the Rogation processions in Vienne they carried poles and pikes to the top of which snakes and wolves were attached in memory of the horrible plague from which this city had been delivered.
(Lesson from the Gospel)