Rogation Sunday, a time of celebration and prayer, is a time set aside to appreciate and recognize our dependence upon the land for our food and most importantly upon our dependence of God for the miracles of sprouting seeds, growing plants, and maturing harvest.
The Rogation Days, the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day, originated in Vienne, France in 470 after a series of natural disasters had caused much suffering among the people. Originally, the Christian observance of Rogation was taken over from Graeco-Roman religion, where an annual procession invoked divine favour to protect crops against mildew. Archbishop Mamertus proclaimed a fast and ordered that special litanies and prayers be said as the population processed around their fields, asking God’s protection and blessing on the crops that were just beginning to sprout.
The Latin word rogare means “to ask”, thus these were “rogation” processions. The tradition grew of using processional litanies, often around the parish boundaries, for the blessing of the land. These processions concluded with a mass. The Rogation procession was suppressed at the Reformation, but it was restored in 1559. The poet George Herbert interpreted the procession as a means of asking for God’s blessing on the land, of preserving boundaries, of encouraging fellowship between neighbours with the reconciling of differences, and of charitable giving to the poor. The tradition of ‘beating the bounds’ has been preserved in some communities. In the latter a group of old and young members of the community would walk the boundaries of the parish, usually led by the parish priest and church officials, to share the knowledge of where they lay, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands. Others maintain the traditional use of the Litany within worship. In more recent times, the scope of Rogation has been widened to include petition for the world of work and for accountable stewardship, and prayer for local communities, whether rural or urban.
The Sunday before the Rogation Days came to be considered a part of Rogationtide (or “Rogantide”) and was known as Rogation Sunday. The Gospel formerly appointed for that day was from John 16, where Jesus tells his disciples to ask, and ye shall receive.