Blessing the Fields on Rogation Sunday at Hever, Kent
|Date||The week of the Feast of the Ascension|
|2014 date||May 26|
|2015 date||May 11|
|2016 date||May 1|
|Related to||Ascension Thursday|
Rogation Days are Christian celebrations spanning five days in Spring. Processions are held from Monday to Wednesday on the dates preceding Ascension Thursday, with a final celebration held on the 25 April.  These have historically been known as the Minor and Major Rogations. The word "Rogation" comes from the Latin verb rogare, meaning "to ask", which reflects the beseeching of God for protection.
The beginnings of the tradition can be traced to the Roman holiday of Robigalia, at which a goat was sacrificed and crops were blessed in the name of the god Robigus. The practitioners asked the god to protect their crops from mildew.
The early Christian church adopted this annual tradition by simply changing the identity of the recipient of the supplications, and it was later officially adopted as a Catholic holiday.
Rogation Days were introduced around AD 470 by Mamertus, Archbishop of Vienne in Gaul, and eventually adopted elsewhere. The adoption of the festivities was ordered by the Council of Orleans in 511, and though Catholic ministers were spreading the Gallic tradition during missions in the 7th century, it wasn't officially adopted by the Catholic church until the reign of Pope Leo III.
There are three Rogation days (Rogation Monday, Rogation Tuesday and Rogation Wednesday) immediately before Ascension Thursday in the Christian liturgical calendar. The term, most frequently encountered in Roman Catholic and Anglican circles, is rarely used today. Though the 25 April is no longer marked in the official Catholic calendar as a holiday, Rogation Monday to Wednesday is still part of the official calendar.
The faithful typically observed the Rogation days by fasting and practicing sexual abstinence as preparation for celebrating the Ascension, and farmers often had their crops blessed by a priest at this time. Violet vestments are worn at the Rogation litany and its associated Mass, regardless of what colour was worn at the ordinary liturgies of the day.
A common feature of Rogation days in former times was the ceremony of beating the bounds, in which a procession of parishioners, led by the minister, churchwarden, and choirboys, would proceed around the boundary of their parish and pray for its protection in the forthcoming year. This was also known as 'Gang-day', from the old British name for going or walking. This was also a feature of the original Roman festival, where revellers would walk to a grove five miles from the city to perform their rites.
The reform of the Liturgical Calendar for Roman Catholics in 1969 delegated the establishment of Rogation Days, along with Ember Days, to the episcopal conferences. Their observance in the Latin Church subsequently declined, but the observance has revived somewhat since 1988 (when Pope John Paul II issued his decree Ecclesia Dei Adflicta) and especially since 2007 (when Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio called Summorum Pontificum) when the use of older rites was encouraged.
In Montier-en-Der, Rogation Day processions were said to be events where miracles occurred. Miracle books reported a blind woman being healed and the lame being able to walk. In Germany it was traditional for the local schoolmaster, rather than priest, to lead the procession.
In the British Isles
The Rogation Day ceremonies are thought to have arrived in the British Isles in the 7th century.
The oldest known Sarum text regarding Rogation Days is dated from around 1173 to 1220. In it, celebrations in the south of England are described, at which these processions were led by members of the congregation carrying banners which represented various biblical characters. At the head of the procession was a dragon, representing Pontius Pilate, which would be followed by a lion, representing Christ. After this there would be images of saints carried by the rest of the congregation. Many torches were also carried, weighing between 42lb and 27lbs, which were bought by the church and parishioners jointly.
Sarum texts from the 13th and 15th century show that the dragon was eventually moved to the rear of the procession on the vigil of the Ascension, with the lion taking place at the front. When wood-cuttings of the procession became prominent in the 16th century, the arrangements had been moved yet again, this time also showing bearers of reliquaries and incense.
During the reign of King Henry VIII, Rogation processions were used as a way to encouage crop yields, with a notable number of the celebrations taking place in 1543 when there were prolonged rains. Even before religious sensibilities turned towards the puritanical, there were concerns about the lack of piety at such events. Robert Herrick, penned a piece to capture the mood of the celebrations before their repression:
Dearest, bury me
Under that Holy-oak, or Gospel Tree
Where (though thou see'st not) thou may'st think upon
Me, when you yearly go'st Procession
During the reign of King Edward VI, having sacked the Catholic Church's holdings within the country, liturgical ceremonies were not officially condoned nor recognized as an official part of worship. However, under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I the celebrations were explicitly mentioned in the royal reformation, allowing them to resume as public processions.
Rogation processions were adopted by the recently formed Church of England, and Protestant ministers were encouraged to bring their congregations together for an inter-parish procession. At specific intervals, clerics were to remind the congregation to be thankful for their harvests. Psalms 103 and 104 were sung and people were reminded of the curses the Bible ascribed to those who violated agricultural boundaries. The processions were not mandatory, but were at the discretion of the local minister, and were also ascribed more importance when a public right of way needed to be protected from agricultural or other expansion.
The marches would follow prescribed routes, with York and Coventry being unique in their following royal entries. On other routes, altars were erected at certain locations where antiphons were sung.
Any Catholic imagery or icons were banned from the processions. The then Archdeacon of Essex, Grindal of London, beseeched the church to explicitly label the tradition as a perambulation, so as to further distance itself from the Catholic liturgy. In the book Second Tome of Homelys, a volume containing officially sanctioned homilies of the Elizabethan church, it was made clear that the English Rogation was to remember town and other communal boundaries in a social and historical context, with extra emphasis on the stability gained from lawful boundary lines.
Four years after Rogation Days were recognised, the manner in which they were observed in reality was very different to the official decree. While it was officially ordered that the entire congregation attend, bishops began urging their priests to invite only older and more pious men. This, they believed, would stop the drunken revelry in diocese where Protestantism had yet to take a firm hold. Royal Injunctions concerning the practice were reinterpreted to restrict and regulate participants of the festivities.
The new Protestant version of Rogation days became such a fixture in church life that the tradition was even carried over to the Americas by British slave owners. Though not widely celebrated in the modern Church of England, the holiday is still observed in some areas.
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