Blessing the Fields on Rogation Sunday at Hever, Kent
|Observances||Fasting and processions|
|Date||April 25; Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preceding Ascension Thursday|
|2015 date||April 25; May 11–13|
|2016 date||April 25; May 2–4|
|2017 date||April 25; May 21–23|
|2018 date||April 25; May 7–9|
|Related to||Ascension Thursday|
Rogation days are days of prayer and fasting in Western Christianity. They are observed with processions and the Litany of the Saints. The so-called major rogation is held on 25 April; the minor rogations are held on Monday to Wednesday preceding Ascension Thursday. The word rogation comes from the Latin verb rogare, meaning "to ask", which reflects the beseeching of God for the appeasement of his anger and for protection from calamities.
The beginnings of the major rogation can be traced to the Roman holiday of Robigalia, at which a dog was sacrificed to propitiate Robigus, the god of agricultural disease. The practitioners asked the god for protection of their crops from wheat rust.
The minor rogation days were introduced around AD 470 by Mamertus, bishop of Vienne, and eventually adopted elsewhere. Their observance was ordered by the Council of Orleans in 511, and though the practice was spreading in Gaul during the 7th century, it was not officially adopted into the Roman rite until the reign of Pope Leo III.
The faithful typically observed the rogation days by fasting and abstinence in preparation to celebrate 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 is 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', after the old English name for going or walking. This was also a feature of the original Roman festival, when revellers would walk to a grove five miles from the city to perform their rites.
The reform of the Liturgical Calendar for Latin 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 when 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, in which processions were led by members of the congregation carrying banners which represented various biblical characters. At the head of the procession was the 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 present at each procession, weighing between 42lb (19kg) and 27lbs (12kg), which were bought by the church and parishioners jointly.
Sarum texts from the 13th and 15th centuries show that the dragon was eventually moved to the rear of the procession on the vigil of the Ascension, with the lion taking the place at the front. Illustrations of the procession from the early 16th century show that the arrangements had been changed 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 assist 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, the Crown having taken much of the Church's holdings within the country, liturgical ceremonies were not officially condoned or recognised as an official part of worship. However, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the celebrations were explicitly mentioned in the royal reformation, allowing them to resume as public processions.
Rogation processions continued in the post-Reformation Church of England much as they had before, and Anglican priests were encouraged to bring their congregations together for inter-parish processions. At specific intervals, clerics were to remind their congregations 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 Roman 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, to further distance it from Italian 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 from 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 those dioceses 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 colonists in Jamaica, Barbados, and South Carolina. Though not widely celebrated in the modern Church of England, the holiday is still observed in some areas.
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