Tradition for the Ages and All Ages
Over the last few years Ascension Thursday has developed some delightful traditions in our home, and while this is seemingly a feast that isn't as expressly celebrated, it dates back throughout the ages. In the writings of both St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. John Chrysostom we can find mention of the festivities surrounding the Ascension. In fact, St. Augustine writes about it as well expressing that this was celebrated long before his time. It fascinates me that by being intentional about living out the joy of this feast day, we are continuing a tradition that dates all the way back to the early church. I mention this because of how profound tradition is, by its nature of transmitting truth and happiness from generation to generation. It links us to the past but also provides a way for us to move forward in unison and hope.
The Minor Rogation Days
Something noteworthy that is also tied to the Solemnity of the Ascension are the rogation days! You may not have heard about them because we are no longer obligated to observe them, but they are quite similar to the ember days which have been back on the rise. I myself had to do some research not long ago because my Catholic planner has them marked and my interest was piqued. There is a major rogation day that happens on the feast of St. Mark, April 24th, and minor rogation days that take place the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preceding Ascension Thursday. In short, these are days set aside for prayer and fasting during the Spring planting season in hopes for a bountiful harvest. The word “rogation” has its origins in the Latin word “rogare," which means to supplicate or ask God for His mercy, to turn away His anger, and to ask Him to bless the fruits of the earth while protecting us from natural disasters. Traditionally these were observed with abstinence but not fasting since they take place within the Easter season.
And I say to you: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Luke 11:9-10, from the Gospel for the Rogation Mass
Why a Picnic?
Our annual picnic developed from a combined understanding and appreciation for the meaning behind the Ascension and the rogation days. The Ascension, celebrated 40 days after Easter, is the culmination of Jesus' earthly life in which He returns to the Father, body and soul. This divine event is not to simply be interpreted as Christ leaving us, but an encouragement for us to wait and watch for His return. It is a feast that should inspire hope within us as well as anticipation for His return and our eternal life with Him in Heaven. With that, and the anticipatory rogation days, we decided that it was a fitting tradition to sit outside, eat fresh foods, and look towards the beautiful sky.
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
What to Pack in Your Pic-a-nic Basket
If you opened my picnic basket this is what you would find: some sort of cooked bird, food that resembles clouds, fresh fruit and veggies, and something with grapes... usually wine. ;) See below for all the fun and traditional connections!
Incorporate your own culture into the menu. We reflected on Italian tradition per our family culture and found that they would bring grapes and beans to Church to have them blessed. Afterward they would then be used as feast for the dead in Heaven. With that in mind we will either keep it simple and have grapes incorporated into a fruit bowl, or I will make something that is grape flavored.
Bless, O Lord, these new fruits of the vine which Thou hast brought to maturity by the dew of heaven, by plentiful rains and by tranquil and favorable weather. Thou hast given us this fruit for our use that we may receive it with thanks in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.