by Don Palmer
Rogation Days are an ancient custom which has been being observed since the 5th century. Rogation—to ask, as in “interrogate”—we ask God’s blessing of the harvest, of the earth and sea. We remind ourselves that we are the stewards of Creation, neither the authors nor the owners of it. Originally an agricultural observance, it has been broadened and made more inclusive—the crops, the catch of the sea, the fruits of our labors in all their aspects.
An ancient pagan custom was “beating the bounds”, with a procession walking out the boundary lines of the village and marking the bounds with stakes. Sticks of willow and birch were used to strike the stakes; hence, “beating the bounds”. Subsequently the custom became incorporated into Rogation Days celebration, particularly in England, in which the parishes are clearly defined, contiguous with adjacent parishes. Rogation Day was celebrated by walking the boundaries of the parish and acknowledging in this way our tangible stewardship.
As the countries, including our own, became more industrialized and less agrarian, we have seen a lessening of the celebration of Rogation—and we are the worse for it. Our “new” Episcopal Book of Common Prayer of 1979 sneakily de-emphasized Rogation Days and Rogation Sunday, as they were annotated in the 1928 BCP They are privileged times to celebrate stewardship, to remind ourselves of our roles, not as masters or owners, but as stewards.
Job had to be reminded of that, too. Remember the voice from the whirlwind? “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? When the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”
Rogation Days are to honor God for His creation, and to pray for the land and sea and the gifts of labor, and for the needs of all. The traditional Rogation Days are the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day.. Rogation Sunday is the Sixth Sunday after Easter. Great music is in our hymnal for celebrating Rogation.
St. Francis, in his “Canticle of Brother Sun”, wrote: “May thou be praised, my Lord, for our sister, mother earth, who sustains and governs and produces fruits with colored flowers and green plants.”
A humbler bit of poetry was in a book I had as a young child, “Daddy Dofunny’s Wisdom Jingles.” Daddy Dofunny was an old and very wise black man on the farm. He wrote, “Some prays for rain, and some for shine, and sometimes bof’ together. But I prays for sunshine in my heart, and then fergits the weather.”
“Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor thee with our substance and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”