So, what are Rogation Days, and what is Rogation Sunday?
Here’s one account:
Traditionally, these are the three days before Ascension Day on which the litany is sung (or recited) in procession as an act of intercession. They originated in Vienne, France, in the fifth century when Bishop Mamertus introduced days of fasting and prayer to ward off a threatened disaster. In England they were associated with the blessing of the fields at planting. The vicar “beat the bounds” of the parish, processing around the fields reciting psalms and the litany. In the United States they have been associated with rural life and with agriculture and fishing.”
The 1979 Prayer Book “widened their scope to include commerce and industry and the stewardship of creation,” which I personally believe is an appropriate and salutary expansion of the tradition.
And here’s another:
“Rogation” means “asking,” which is a theme particularly prominent in the Gospel text for this Sunday (St. John 16:23-33). We call this Sunday “Rogation Sunday” because the 3 days which follow it are ancient Rogation Days, these being the 3 days leading up to the great Feast of the Ascension of our Lord (a much neglected holy day!)… Rogation Days are days of prayerful supplication before God. In the agrarian culture of yesterday, it was common for the church to gather on the Rogation Days to ask God to bless the crops being sown. We would have asked Him to send rain and to bless us with a good harvest later in the year. Often the prayers would have been said (or sung) as the church processed around the boundary lines of the parish. It is from the Rogation Day prayers (as found in the Sarum Sacramentary) that Archbishop Cranmer formulated the Litany (1545), which was his first work of liturgical reform.
So to sum up: Rogation Sunday, and the three traditional Rogation Days which follow, leading up to the Ascension, are days of supplication and prayer for God’s blessing and protection upon us in the year ahead, with a special focus on the fruits of agriculture, on which we all rely for our survival. To my mind, it has always provided a suitable opportunity, within the Calendar of the Church, to turn our grateful attention to God’s tremendous gift to us of this good Earth, our physical home and the material source and sustainer of our continued existence, to express our thanks to God for this great gift, and to pray for its continued well-being, and ours.
May God grant us a blessed Rogationtide!