Monday, 29 May 2017

G.R. Balleine on May - Part 2

A piece from "The Pilot", 1958.

Balleine mentions the Robigalia, an ancient agricultural festival celebrated in honor of Robigo the goddess of blight, red rust, or mildew, when the crops were most vulnerable to disease (Pliny).. The sacrifice of dogs, repugnant though it seems to us, was a custom of Ancient Roman and Greek Paganism.

Ovid relates in a poem that he happened to meet the priest as he and his followers, all dressed in white, were on their way to the sacred grove to offer sacrifice, and who carried with him the entrails of both a dog and a sheep. 

As James Grout notes:

"When Ovid asked the priest why a dog had been sacrificed, he was told that it related to the rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, which coincided with the heat of summer, causing the crops to ripen prematurely. This association is probably incorrect (Sirius actually sets then) and it may be that neither Ovid nor the priest really knew the reason"

"A major Rogation day (from rogare, "to ask or beseech") was instituted by Pope Gregory I (died AD 604) to atone for a lack of sobriety and continence during Lent. Celebrated on April 25, the litany was intended to surplant the Robigalia."

Calendar Notes: May - Part 2
by G.R. Balleine

The following Sunday after Ascension Day used to be called Expectation Sunday (Dominica Exptectationis) because the Disciples were there waiting for the promised gift of the Spirit.

Then comes Whitsunday, White Sunday, the Festival of the Spirit of God, the Unseen Helper, who gives us power to lead clean white lives.

" Every virtue we possess, and every victory won, and every thought of holiness are his alone”. This was one of the three baptismal seasons of the Early Church, and got its name from the robes worn by the newly baptised.

Like all great Festivals it had special dainties: cheese cakes, baked custards, and gooseberry pudding. In the Middle Ages, when the Church tried to teach by kindergarten methods, the Descent of the Spirit was symbolized by releasing a live dove from the rood-loft or by lowering it gilt dove from the ceiling. Hence some surprising entries in old Churchwardens' Account; : -'' New wire for ye Holy Ghost”, “Regilding ye Holy Ghost”

The three days before Ascension Day are Rogation Days, and the Table of Feasts at the beginning of the Prayer Book names the previous Sunday Rogation Sunday. . Rogation means “Asking”'

Our lives depend on the harvest. If the world's harvests should fail, we should all starve. One great enemy of the harvest is red rust, a fungus which attacks growing corn. The farmer has always felt helpless against this tiny foe, and in his helplessness has turned to his gods for aid. The pagan Romans kept a Feast called Robigalia (' robigo ' means ' red rust '), when they marched through the newly sown fields, and sacrificed a red dog to the dog star.

After they became Christian, they did not drop this procession, though now they sang Litanies to Christ: “Give and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth.' The custom survived the Reformation, and was recognized by our Prayer Book; but it gradually degenerated into it mere Beating of the Bounds, a walk, not to offer prayers to God, but to fix in people's minds the parish boundaries. When Ordnance maps were made, the custom died altogether.

But an Open .Air Service to pray for the crops seems worth reviving. Harvest Thanksgiving Services arc popular. Is it impossible to gather people in spring to pray, “Give us our daily bread?”

The three Ember Days: at the end of the month are Days of Prayer for those to be ordained on the following Sunday.

The remaining Black Letter Days can only be mentioned briefly.

Athanasius, Bishop of .Alexandria, was a great Theologian, champion of the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ against the heretic Arius.

Monnica (two “ns”) was the saintly mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, to whom he largely owed his conversion.

Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, was a man of many accomplishments, a skilled metal-worker, whose recreation was his forge, a musician, whose harp was his constant companion, a Reformer of monasteries, recalling the inmates to a stricter life and adviser of kings.

Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne was, another versatile Saint. Though one of the greatest scholars of his day and leader of the movement that made England for a little the centre of European learning, he would go out to win non-churchgoers, disguised as a wandering minstrel, and sing secular songs on a bridge till a crowd gathered, and then turn to sacred songs, and thus each the people truths they would not come to hear from the pulpit. .

Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, came to Kent as leader of a hand of missionary monks. He found England a heathen country, but, when he died, he left Christianity firmly established in Kent (one day he baptized 10,000 people), and it was steadily winning its, way in Essex and London.

The Venerable Bede led a scholar's uneventful life in North England, but his many books had a deep influence on English Christianity.

Two dates in this month's Calendar commemorate traditions.

The Invention of the Cross (“Invention” meant ` Finding') kept alive the story that the Empress Helena had discovered the true Cross on Calvary. The day proved useful as a second opportunity for proclaiming the Good Friday message, and it gave birth to famous hymns such as, “In the Lords atoning grief”, “The royal banners forward go”, “Sing my tongue, the glorious battle” ,' and, probably “O sacred I-lead sore wounded.”

The Latin abbreviations, St. John Elan. ant. port. lat. recall an old legend that St. John was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil before the Latin Gate at Rome and came out unhurt.

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