Ember Days Are Here Again

Wheat in PalestineBooks Worth Reading

In those now far off days of my Catholic boyhood, I was a dedicated reader of Father Weiser’s Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. I would spend hours studying Father Weiser’s description of the seasons, festivals, and fasts of the Church. Alongside of Father Weiser, I would read Pius Parsch’s The Church’s Year of Grace. These books have lost nothing of their value, especially for Catholics who are beginning to discover the riches of Church’s liturgical tradition.

from Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs
by Father Francis X. Weiser, S.J., Copyright 1958.


EARLY CENTURIES — The Romans, originally an agricultural people, had many nature gods and a goodly number of pagan religious nature festivals. Outstanding among them was the threefold seasonal observance of prayer and sacrifices to obtain the favor of the gods upon sowing and harvest. The first of these seasonal celebrations occurred at various dates between the middle of November and the winter solstice. It was a time of prayer for successful sowing (Feriae Sementivae: Feast of Sowing). The second festival was held in June or July for the grain harvest (Feriae Messis: Harvest Feast).1 The third one came before the autumnal equinox (September) and was motivated by the wine harvest (Vinalia: Feast of Wine).2

Seasonal Prayer

The early Christians in the Roman Empire could not, of course, partake in such pagan celebrations in any way. On the other hand, the thought of prayer to God for His blessing upon sowing and harvest appealed as much, and even more so, to the Christians as it did to the pagans. Moreover, the Scriptures of the Old Testament mention “the fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth” (Zechariah 8, 19). The Dead Sea scrolls, too, contain a clear reference to special prayer times at the beginning of the annual seasons.3

In Fasting and Vigils

It is not surprising, then, that the Christians in Rome introduced such prayer seasons of their own at the time the empire was still pagan (third century). These prayer periods, although coinciding roughly with the pagan dates of celebration (because of their natural background), did not imitate the heathen observance. Instead of the pagan feasting, the Christians fasted. They offered the Eucharistic Sacrifice after having fasted the whole of Saturday and having performed a long vigil service of prayers and readings. The first regulations concerning this festival of the “Three Seasons” are ascribed to Pope Callistus (222).4

Very early, probably during the fourth century, the Church added a fourth prayer period (in March). This change seems to have been motivated by the fact that the year contains four natural seasons, and also by the mention of four fasting periods in the Book of the prophet Zechariah. At about the same time, each period was extended over the three traditional Station days (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday). While the Station fast at other times was expected but not strictly prescribed, this seasonal observance imposed fasting by obligation. The vigil service from Saturday to Sunday was retained as a full vigil, lasting the greater part of the night.5

Apostolic Origin

Pope Leo the Great (461) mentions these prayer periods, or Ember Days, as an ancient traditional celebration of the Roman Church. He even claims that they are of apostolic origin (which may well be correct as far as the Jewish custom of seasonal prayer times is concerned). He preached a number of sermons on the occasion, stressing both the duty of imploring God’s blessing and of thanking Him for the harvest by the tribute of a joyful fast before consuming the gifts of His bounty.6 In subsequent centuries, however, the Ember celebration lost a great deal of its joyous and festive character, and the motive of penance was stressed more and more.

Praying for the Clergy

Another historical event helped to overshadow the original purpose and mood of Embertides. In 494 Pope Gelasius I prescribed that the sacrament of Holy Orders (deaconate, priesthood) be conferred on Ember Saturdays. Thus the prayer and fasting of Ember week acquired added importance, for apostolic tradition demanded that ordinations be preceded by fast and prayer (Acts 13, 3). Not only the candidates fasted and prayed for a few days in preparation for Holy Orders, but the whole clergy and people joined them to obtain God’s grace and blessing upon their calling. It seemed natural, then, to put the ordinations at the end of those weeks that already were established times of prayer and fasting.7

Thus the regulation of Pope Gelasius turned the Embertides into a general performance of spiritual exercises for all, similar in thought and purpose to our modern retreats and missions. The Holy Orders were then conferred before the Mass of Saturday, after the lessons which closed with the hymn “Benedictus” of the Old Testament (see Daniel 3, 52).8

The Embertides have remained official times of ordination ever since.9 Candidates are still obliged to perform spiritual exercises in preparation;10 however, these are now made privately, and not in union with the whole congregation, as was the case in ancient days. On the other hand, the Ember weeks have been stressed in recent centuries as a time of special prayer on the part of the faithful for vocations to priesthood and for the sanctification of priests.

MEDIEVAL TIMES — At the beginning of the sixth century the Ember Day celebration was well established at Rome in all its essential features. The only point that remained undetermined for a long time was the date of the Ember weeks in Advent and Lent. The ancient regulations only prescribed the “third week in December” and the “first week in March” without saying what should be done when the month started on a Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday.11 This question was finally settled by Pope Gregory VII (1085), who decided on the following arrangement (which is still kept today): Embertides are to be celebrated in the weeks after the third Sunday of Advent, after the first Sunday of Lent, during Pentecost week, and in the week following the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14).12

Universal and Popular in the West

The Embertides spread slowly at first, and not without some popular resistance outside of Rome, for they were a typically local celebration of the city of Rome. The Diocese of Milan, for instance, did not introduce them for a thousand years, until the thirteenth century. They went to Spain through the acceptance of the Roman Missal in the eleventh century. Long before that, however, the Anglo-Saxons had adopted them in the eighth century by taking over the Roman rites as a whole at their conversion. In the Frankish kingdoms (France and Germany) they seem to have been introduced by Saint Boniface (754), but did not become established until Charlemagne prescribed them for the whole Frankish realm in 769. Their observance, though, had to be repeatedly enjoined by synods in France and Germany during the ninth century, until they finally became a universal and popular feature of ecclesiastical celebration.13 The Eastern Churches do not observe Embertides, but have other periods of penance and fast besides Lent.14

NAMES — In the earliest liturgical books the Ember Days are simply called “the fast of the first, fourth, seventh and tenth month” (that is, March, June, September, December) — an interesting example of how the ancient practice of starting the year on March first, which had been officially abrogated by Julius Caesar was still in vogue among the population of Rome centuries later.15 During the sixth century the term Quatuor Tempora (Four Times or Seasons) was introduced, and has remained ever since as the official ecclesiastical name for the Embertides.16

From the Latin word most European nations coined their popular terms: Quatretemps in French, Quatro Tempora in Italian, Las Temporas in Spanish, Quatember in German, Kvatrni posti among the southern Slavs, Kántor böjtök in Hungarian. The northern Slavs of the Latin Rite call the Embertides Suche dni (“Dry days”) from the ancient custom of eating uncooked food during fasts. The English term Ember seems to derive from the Anglo-Saxon ymbren (season, period).


— In early medieval days it was customary in Rome to hold a penitential procession which proceeded from the place of gathering (collecta) to the Station church for the services on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays of Ember weeks. The night from Saturday to Sunday was a major vigil. As at the Easter vigil, passages from the Bible were read in twelve long lessons, the last one always being the story of the three young men in the furnace (Daniel 3). Today there are only six lessons — considerably shortened — but closing, as of old, with the miracle of the furnace and the hymn of the three men (Daniel 3, 47-56).17 The call Flectamus Genua (Let us bend our knees) has also been retained from the rite of major vigils in ancient times.

The Vigil Mass

The Mass following the prayer service of the vigil stood for the Sunday Mass. Thus many old liturgical books carry the remark Dominica vacat (“the Sunday is vacant), that is, it has no Mass text of its own. Only after the sixth century, when the vigil service and its Mass were anticipated on Saturday evening (and later on Saturday morning), did the Sundays receive texts of their own in the Missal.18

Multiple Meanings

Besides some traces (in the lessons) of the original purpose, the Mass formulas of Ember Days mostly express the thoughts of the liturgical seasons in which they fall: expectation of the Lord in Advent; penance and prayer in Lent; the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Masses of the Embertide in September seem to have preserved features of the original celebration, since the lessons and prayers reflect the joy of a harvest festival.

Casting Out Demons

It is an interesting fact that most of the Gospel passages on Ember Days (with the exception of those in Advent) relate or mention the expulsion of demons. This has been interpreted as an indication of how the Church consciously condemned and supplanted the pagan celebration of the seasonal feriae, which was not a service of the true God but a slavery of false gods whom the early Christians considered and called “demons.”19

EMBERTIDE OF PENTECOST — This Embertide has assumed a special character which distinguishes it from all the others. Coinciding with the octave of Pentecost, it displays an interesting combination of penitential motives (in some of its Mass prayers) with the celebration of the great feast (Gloria, Credo, Alleluia Sequence, Pentecostal orations, red vestments, omission of Flectamus Genua). Because of this joyful note it used to be called Ieiunium Exultationis (the Fast of Exultation) in the Middle Ages. Abbot Rupert of Deutz (1130) wrote about it as follows:

It is not a fast to make us sad or to darken our hearts, but it rather brightens the solemnity of the Holy Spirit’s arrival; for the sweetness of the Spirit of God makes the faithful loathe the pleasures of earthly food.20

Saint Isidore of Spain (636), Doctor of the Church, relates that for a time in the earliest centuries this fast was held right after the Feast of the Ascension, in imitation of the Apostles’ prayerful retreat (Acts 1, 14). It was soon transferred to Pentecost week, however, because the practice of the Church did not allow for fasting or penitential exercises between Easter and Pentecost.21


RELIGIOUS CUSTOMS — Up to the late Middle Ages the Ember Days were generally kept as holydays of obligation, with attendance at Mass and rest from work, and as weeks of penance and fervent prayer. They were favored dates for the reception of Holy Communion, a custom still alive in many Catholic sections of Europe.

Works of Mercy

The practice of spiritual and temporal works of charity and mercy, which had always been stressed by the Church in connection with Embertide fasting, produced the custom of devoting the Ember Days to special prayer for the suffering souls in purgatory, and of having Masses said for them during the Embertides. This tradition, too, is still frequently found in European countries. Alms and food were given to the poor on Ember Days, and warm baths provided for them (a popular work of Christian charity in bygone centuries).

Pregnant Mothers

Since people in centuries past were more keenly aware of the connection between Embertides and prayer for God’s blessing upon the functions and fruits of nature, they also included in their petitions, and in a special way, the successful and happy birth of their children. Thus the Ember Days became particular occasions of prayer by and for pregnant mothers. Children born during Embertides were considered as unusually blessed by God. Popular superstition ascribed to them “good luck” for their whole life, excellent health, and many favors of body and soul.

The Holy Souls

Finally, there is the ancient legend that many poor souls are allowed to leave purgatory for a few moments every Embertide, to appear in visible shape to those relatives and friends who fervently pray for the departed ones, in order to thank them and to beg for continued prayerful help for themselves and for those holy souls who have nobody on earth to remember them. The laudable custom observed by many faithful in modern times of praying and having Masses offered for the “forgotten” souls in purgatory seems to be a happy relic of this medieval popular legend.22

QUARTER TERMS — From ancient Germanic usage the Ember weeks took over the character of “quarter terms,” that is, the four seasonal periods of the year during which burdensome civic obligations had to be carried out, like the paying of debts, tithes, and taxes. From this practice the Ember weeks were called by the Persian-Latin term Angariae (Requisitions). The German word Frohnfasten is often explained as meaning the same as Angariae — the payment of what is owed to temporal lords. Actually, however, it means the “Fast of the Lord God,” that is, a solemn, general, and holy fast in the service of God.23


1 PW, 6.2, 2211 (Feriae); 2A.2, 1346ff. (Sementivae).
2 Pliny the Younger, Epist., 8, 21.
3 Gaster, Hymn 11, 182.
4 LP, I, 141.
5 LE, 135 f.
6 See the sermons of Saint Leo in PL, 54, passim (1-3, 12, 13, 16-19, 51, 84, 87-94).
7 H. Leclercq, Quatre-Temps, DACL, 14.2 (1948), 2014 ff.
8 The ordinations are now conferred in separate rites after the various lessons of Ember Saturday.
9 CIC, 1006, 2.
10 CIC, 1001, 1.
11 See the treatise by Abbot Berno of Reichenau (1048): Qualiter quatuor temporum jejunia sint observanda; PL, 142, 1087.
12 Micrologus, 24 ff.; PL, 151, 978.
13 DACL, 14.2 (1948), 2016.
14 K. Holl, Die Entstehung der vier Fastenzeiten in der griechischen Kirche, in Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Kirchengeschichte, Tubingen 1928, II, 155 ff.
15 Kellner, 185.
16 Nilles, II, 510 ff.
17 MR, passim (Sabbato Quatuor Temporum).
18 Jgn GK, 253.
19 TE, I, S92.
20 De divin. officiis, 10, 26; PL, 170, 289.
21 De eccles. officiis, I, 1; PL, 38, 733.
22 L. Eisenhofer, Quatember, LThK, 8 (1936), 581.
23 Nilles, II, 512 ff.



LITANIES — The Jews in the Old Testament had a form of public prayer in which one or more persons would pronounce invocations of God which all those present answered by repeating (after every invocation) a certain prayer call, like “His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 135) or “Praise and exalt Him above all forever” (Daniel 3, 57-87).

In the New Testament the Church retained this practice. The early Christians called such common, public, and alternating prayers “litany,” from the Greek litaneia (lité), meaning “a humble and fervent appeal.”1 What they prayed for is indicated in a short summary by Saint Paul in his first letter to Timothy (2, 1-2).

The common and typical structure of the litany in the Latin Church developed gradually, from the third century on, from short invocations as they were used in early Church services. It consisted of four main types, which were recited either separately or joined together. First, invocations of the Divine Persons and of Christ, with the response Miserere nobis (Have mercy on us). Second, invocations of Mary, the Apostles, and groups of saints, response: Ora pro nobis (Pray for us). Third, prayers to God for protection from evils of body and soul, response: Libera nos, Domine (Deliver us, O Lord). Finally, prayers for needed favors, response: Te rogamus, audi nos (We beseech Thee, hear us).2

Many invocations of individual saints and special petitions were added everywhere in later centuries, and popular devotion increased their numbers to such an extent that Pope Clement VIII, in 1601, determined the official text of the litany (called “Litany of All Saints”) and prohibited the public use of any other litanies unless expressly approved by Rome.3

Kyrie Eleison

The invocation Kyrie eleison came from the Orient to Rome in the fifth century. It soon acquired such popularity that it joined (and even supplanted) the older form of litany in the Mass of the Catechumens.4 Up to this day the Kyrie eleison and Christe eleison in the Mass remain as relics of the responses that the people gave to petitions recited by the deacon (before the readings) and by the celebrant (after the Gospel). Outside of the Holy Sacrifice, the Kyrie eleison was also added to the other types of litany prayers; it may still be found at the beginning and end of every litany. The Greek Rite still uses a number of actual litanies (Ektenai) in its liturgy (the Holy Sacrifice).5


Many and varied are the occasions on which litanies were in use among early Christians. Besides being a part of the Mass liturgy, a litany was recited before solemn baptism (as it is today in the liturgy of the Easter vigil) and in the prayers for the dying (where it is also still prescribed). Even more frequent, however, was the use of litanies during processions, because the short invocations and exclamatory answers provided a convenient form of common prayer for a multitude in motion.6 This connection between litany and procession soon brought about the custom of calling both by the same term. From the sixth century on, litania was used with the meaning of “procession.” The first Council of Orléans (511) incorporated this usage into the official terminology of the Church.7

Since the ancient Roman Church had many and divers kinds of processions, the litanies must have been a most familiar feature of ecclesiastical life. Litanies (processions) were held on Station days, every day in Lent, on many feasts, on Ember Days and vigils, and on special occasions (calamities and dangers of a usual or unusual kind) when God’s mercy and protection was implored with particular fervor.8 These latter occasions had already been observed in pagan Rome with processions to the shrines of gods at certain times of the year. Their natural features (dates, routes, motives) were part of the traditional community life. These features the Church retained in certain cases, filling them with the significance and spiritual power of Christian worship.

THE MAJOR LITANIES — The pagan Romans had two kinds of religious parades: the amburbalia (around the city) and ambarvalia (around the fields).9 The most important one of the rural processions every year (on April 25) walked along the Via Claudia to a place four miles outside the city. Its purpose was to obtain protection against frost and blight for the field fruits, especially grains. The Roman god responsible for this harvest was a bisexual divinity invoked either as male or female (Robigus, Robigo). He (or she) had the power to send blight upon the grains; and the procession was made to avert his “evil eye” from the fruits of human toil.10 At the fifth milestone, beyond the Milvian Bridge, was a grove which served as a shrine of Robigus. There the parade stopped, and the Flamen (pagan priest) sacrificed a sheep and a rust-colored dog, offering the entrails of these animals to the god. After the “service,” young and old celebrated a kind of picnic with games, races, and amusements (some of which were not overly decent). In honor of the god the whole celebration was called Robigalia.11

Christianity had no quarrel with the motive of such a procession (prayer for protection of the harvest) or with its traditional date and route. Thus, when the empire turned Christian in the fourth century and the pagan celebrations died a natural death, the Church took over this traditional observance, as a Christian rite, to pray for God’s protection and blessing upon the fields. The pope with his clergy and a great crowd of people marched in solemn procession along the same route. They chanted the litany and repeated every invocation. After crossing the Milvian Bridge they did not, however, proceed to the place where the shrine of Robigus had been, but turned back and wended their way along the Tiber to the church of St. Peter at the Vatican. There the pope offered the Holy Sacrifice, and the multitude attended.12

When and how, after the pagan observance had stopped, the Church started this annual procession is not known. The first definite information is given in a sermon of Pope Gregory the Great (604), who called it a Litania Major (Greater Litany); and he speaks of the “return of this annual solemnity,” which proves that it already was a traditional feature in his day.13

The name litania major was originally given to a number of solemn processions in Rome (such as those on April 25 and Ember Fridays).14 Only later was it applied exclusively to the procession of April 25, and this term has remained in the liturgy ever since. There is no connection between the Major Litany and the Feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist, which is celebrated on the same day. The litany is of much earlier date, for the Feast of Saint Mark was not introduced until the ninth century.15

Shortly after the beginning of the Middle Ages, the Major Litany was adopted by other parts of the ancient empire, but not everywhere on the same date. It was only during the ninth and tenth centuries that the Roman date and ritual became those usually accepted. For the Frankish empire the observance in the Roman manner was prescribed by the Council of Aachen, in 836.16 Today the liturgical books use the plural form in all cases, both for the prayers and the processions.17

THE MINOR LITANIES — In 470, during a time of unusual calamities (storms, floods, earthquakes), Bishop Mamertus of Vienne in Gaul originated an annual observance of penitential exercises for the three days before the Feast of the Ascension. With the cooperation of the civil authorities he decreed that the faithful abstain from servile work and that this triduum be held as a time of penance, with prayer and fasting. He also prescribed penitential processions (litanies) for each one of the three days. Thus the name “litanies” was given to the whole celebration.18

Very soon the other bishops of Gaul adopted the new observance. At the beginning of the sixth century it started spreading into neighboring countries. In 511 the Council of Orleans prescribed it for the Frankish (Merovingian) part of France.19 The Diocese of Milan accepted the litanies, but held them in the week before Pentecost.20 In Spain they were observed in the sixth century during the week after Pentecost.21 The Council of Mainz (813) introduced them to the German part of the Frankish empire.22

Meanwhile, Rome had declined for centuries to adopt this custom because its liturgical character did not agree with the ancient practice of the Roman Church which excluded penitential rites on all days between Easter and Pentecost. Charlemagne and the Frankish bishops, however, urged Pope Leo III (816) to incorporate these litanies into the Roman liturgy.23 The pope finally consented to a compromise: the observance of the fast was rescinded, but the penitential procession was approved. As Mass text, the formula of the Major Litany from the Roman liturgical books was taken. This approval was originally made only as an exception, for the litanies were not intended by Leo III as an established annual rite.24 In return for the concession, the Frankish Church decreed, at the Council of Aachen (836), that these “minor litanies” should be held according to the Roman decision (without fast).25

During the subsequent centuries, however, the custom of holding these litanies became definitely established, even at Rome, as an annual feature of the liturgical year; it has remained so ever since in the whole Latin Church, and is now celebrated everywhere on the three days before the Feast of the Ascension. A memorable exception has been made recently: Pope Pius XII granted to some Catholic missions in the Pacific Islands the permission to celebrate both the major and minor litanies in October or November.26

NAMES — The litanies held on each one of the three days before the Feast of the Ascension are called “minor” because, in the Roman liturgy, they are of younger date than the Major Litany on April 25. In the early centuries they were also called “Gallican Litanies,” because of their origin in Gaul.27 The Major Litany was named “Roman” or “Gregorian” (after Gregory the Great, who first mentioned it). The popular term “Rogation Days” originated in the High Middle Ages. Another popular name, mostly used in central Europe, is “Cross Days” (from the crucifix that is carried in front of the procession).28


LATIN RITE — The Rogation Days are unique through their penitential nature (purple vestments, no Gloria) within the jubilant Easter season. Even the Major Litany, which in ancient times was a festive observance of joyful petition and confidence, became assimilated after the beginning of the tenth century, acquiring this note of mourning and penance.29

In the chanting of the litanies each invocation is repeated twice, first by the cantors, then by the people (choir). Some scholars explain this custom as a relic of the Litania Septiformis (Procession in Seven Columns) from the time of Pope Gregory the Great, who initiated this particular type of litany.30 Another feature of the ancient Major Litany was the antiphons, which the cantors sang at the start of the procession. They unfortunately were discontinued centuries ago, so they are no longer found in our liturgical books.31

The litany used to lead directly into the Mass (as it still does on the vigil of Easter). The Rogation Mass, therefore, had neither Introit nor Kyrie of its own, but the priest concluded the litany by singing a Collect which also served as oration (prayer) of the Mass. The ten Collects used now in the litany are of later date, when the procession was severed from the Mass and held as a separate and isolated rite.32

There is no obligation now to conduct a procession. However, the rubrics of the Divine Office prescribe that on Rogation Days all those who are obliged to say the breviary must recite the Litanies of All Saints (with the psalm and prayers following it) whenever they have missed them before Mass.33

The Rogations must be commemorated in other Masses on Rogation Days (for instance, in the Mass of Saint Mark the Evangelist). If April 25 should happen to be Easter Sunday, the litanies are transferred to Tuesday in Easter week; apart from this exception, they are always to be held on their liturgical dates even if some other great feast should fall on one of their days.34

ORIENTAL RITES — Most of the Oriental Churches keep a triduum of fast and penitential prayer, comparable to the Rogations, shortly before the beginning of Lent. In the Greek Rite it is called the “Fast of Adam” in honor of the first law of abstinence which God gave to Adam and Eve in Paradise (Genesis 2, 17), and in preparation for the coming strict fast of Lent. About the same time of the year, the Syrians, Chaldeans, and Copts celebrate a three days’ penitential season of prayer and fasting which they call the “Fast of Indiction” (because God indicts man, and punishes him through natural calamities) or “Fast of the Ninevites” (because the people of Nineveh averted God’s punishment through prayer and fasting; see Jonas 3, 5-10). The Armenians term it Aratshavor-atz, which means “precursor” (a fast coming before Lent).35


RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE — In the rural sections of Catholic countries the Rogations are still held in their full and original significance with many features of external solemnity. The church bells ring while the procession slowly wends its way through the town and out into the open. Religious banners are carried, the litanies are chanted by choir and people, and the priest sprinkles the fields, gardens, and orchards with holy water. After returning to the church, a sermon is preached and the High Mass of the Rogations is celebrated. Later in the day some time is spent by many farmers with private little prayer processions around their own homestead. Reciting traditional prayers, the whole family asks for God’s blessing upon house, barns, stables, and fields.36

In some places the Rogations are held in a way that is strongly reminiscent of the Litania Septiformis of ancient times. The inhabitants of villages surrounding some city or town will proceed from their own churches in separate processions and converge toward the big church of the city for the sermon and High Mass. Afterward a market or fair is ready to serve their temporal needs and interests.

The purpose and liturgy of the Rogations has for many centuries, up to our time, inspired a great number of semi-liturgical imitations and repetitions of its rite in the manifold smaller processions which are held all through the summer months in countless places of Europe. These prayer processions are customary whenever the harvest is in danger from frost, floods, hail, drought, or the like.37 Other such processions are steady features of religious observance, and their main purpose is to pray for the right kind of weather — a most important item on the prayer list of agricultural populations.38 In many sections of Europe a “weather procession” is held around the church on every Sunday. Usually the priest sings the prologue of Saint John’s Gospel (1, 1-14), which from the High Middle Ages has been considered as conferring a powerful
blessing against all harmful trends of nature.39

PRE-CHRISTIAN ELEMENTS — The pre-Christian lore of averting harm from fields and homes by the magic power of “walking around” them (circumambulatio, ambitus in Latin and umbigang in old Germanic) still survives in many superstitious customs among the rural populations of Europe.40 At the seasons of the year when the demons roam (before the winter solstice, on Walpurgis Night, around the middle of June, at Halloween), girls or young men must circle the fields and orchards, sometimes during the night and in a rhythmic dance step. Before Christmas the farmer goes around his buildings with incense and holy water. He must be careful to complete the round walk; otherwise “the blessing would not take hold.” Here also belongs the superstition held in many places that visitors should leave the home by the same door through which they came (to “close the circle”) in order to avoid misfortune and harm.41


1 F. Cabrol, Litanies, DACL, 9.2 (1930), 1540 ff.
2 Schuster, II, 359.
3 CIC, 1259, 2.
4 Jgn MS, I, 412ff.
5 Nilles, I, LXHI (Ektenés).
6 J. A. Jungmann, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Gebetsliturgie, VII, ZKTh, 73 (1951), 347ff.
7 Can. 27; Mansi, 8, 355.
8 Kellner, 189 ff.
9 PW, I, 1796 (Ambarvalia), 1816 (Amburbium).
10 M. T. Varro, Antiquitates, De Rust., I, 1, 6.
11 PW, IA.1, 949 ff.
12 TE, I, 660.
13 Letter without address; PL, 27, 1327.
14 H. Grisar, Das Römische Sacramentar, ZKTh, 9 (1885), 585 ff.
15 Kellner, 300.
16 Cap. II, Can. 10; Mansi, 14, 678.
17 H. Leclercq, Procession de Saint Marc, DACL, 10.2 (1932), 1740 ff.
18 Gregory of Tours, Historia Francorum 2, 34; PL, 71, 231 ff.; Sidon. Apoll., Epist. 1; PL, 58, 563.
19 Can. 27; Mansi, 8, 355.
20 Kellner, 193.
21 Concil. Gerund., Can. 2; Mansi, 8, 549.
22 Can. 33; Mansi, 14, 72.
23 LE, 164.
24 Schuster, II, 371.
25 See note 16.
26 W. van Bekkum, The Liturgical Revival in the Service of the Missions,” AP, 108.
27 F. Cabrol, Rogations, DACL, 14.2 (1948), 2459 ff.
28 OiT, 110.
29 Schuster, II, 356.
30 DACL, 10.2 (1932), 1740 (Litania Septiformis).
31 Schuster, II, 358 (text of these ancient antiphons).
32 Schuster, II, 366.
33 BR, April 25 (S. Marci Evangelistae), rubric at the end.
34 MR, April 25 (S. Marci Evangelistae), rubric before Mass text.
35 Nilles, II, 6-11, 51, 646, 697.
36 OiT, 104ff. (Die drei Bittage vor Christi Himmelfahrt).
37 B. Scholz, “The Sacramentals in Agriculture,” OF, 5 (1931), 323 ff.
38 Franz, II, 71.
39 Jgn MS, II, 543.
40 Franz, II, 7, 68.