Every 5th Sunday after the Easter Day, which corresponds to the last Sunday before the Ascension Day, is known as the Rogation Sunday, and the following three days as the Rogation Days. The word, Rogation, is got from the Latin word, rogare, which means “to ask.”
The history of the observance of rogation is traced to the year 470, when France was struck by numerous natural disasters, namely floods, fires, earthquakes, and plaques, as well as riots, looting and invasions. Consequently, Bishop Mamertus of Viennes, France (461-475) came up with the idea of setting aside the three days preceding the Ascension Day for processions and Litanies for God’s forgiveness, blessing and protection from further catastrophe.
He led the processions on these three days in which the entire community participated, reciting prayers and asking God to bring them peace, good weather, and a bountiful harvest. By 511, the custom of holding processions with litanies on these three days had spread throughout France, and reached Rome around 9th Century, where it came to be combined with a similar ceremony already being held on April 25, which the Pope directed to be observed as the Major Rogation Day, and the three days preceding the Ascension Day as the Minor Rogation Days. In addition, the Sunday before Ascension Day, which was not one of the original Rogation Days, came to be known and observed as the Rogation Sunday.
In medieval England, the Rogation Days, which were called Gang or Gange Days, from the Anglo-Saxon word, gangen which means “to go” or “to walk,” were observed with processions that began in the local church and proceeded to outline the boundaries of the parish, pausing occasionally for the recitation of prayers. The Church of England used these Rogation Days as opportunity to reconfirm parish boundaries (Beating the Bounds) and to settle differences among church members (Reconciliation). George Herbert, a notable Anglican Divine, outlined the following four aims in the observance of the Rogation Days in the Church of England:
• To seek God’s blessing for the fields to bear fruit
• To seek the preservation of justice in the boundaries of the parish
• To walk in love with one another and reconcile differences
• To practise mercy and generosity towards the poor from God’s provisions.
Over the centuries, Rogationtide became primarily a time to bless the fields and the crops, although prayers for protection from natural disasters never disappeared entirely. Also, as people became less agrarian, Rogation Processions around fields diminished, and Rogation Prayers are modified to be relevant to the contemporary the people’s professions.
But, Rogation remains a relevant Church heritage, telling us that we do not only need God’s blessing of our endeavours, we also need His protection from the plague and calamities of the world, including the present CODVID-19 pandemic. We need prayers for special intervention of God to survive and flourish on this earth.
Good Lord, Deliver us.
The Venerable Dr Princewill Onyinyechukwu Ireoba, FIMC, CMC,
Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.