Almost forgotten by Anglicans in America are the Rogation Days. These are the three days before Ascension Day and are not to be confused with the Fifth Sunday after Easter, “Commonly called Rogation Sunday”. Rogation Sunday is so-called only because it is the Sunday preceding the Rogation Days. It is the three days which are of significance and not the preceding Sunday.
Perhaps the significance of the Rogation Days can best be understood from two things -- the origin of the word “rogation” and the time of year in which the day occurs. “Rogation” comes from the Latin verb, rogare which means simply to ask or beg. We see this root repeated in other English words such as “interrogation”. The Rogation Days are therefore, first of all, days of prayer and supplication, days of asking God for something.
What do we ask of God on these days? Here the calendar comes in. The days are in spring, when the crops are being sown, when everything is bursting out in new leaf, new growth, new life. Therefore the Rogation Days are days in which God’s blessing is asked for the new crops and for a fruitful season in growth. In fact, the Rogation Days and Thanksgiving Day should be bracketed together -- the former to ask for good crops, the latter to give thanks for good crops.
These Rogation Days and their observance are of ancient if somewhat confusing origin, perhaps in one form or another going back to the fourth of fifth centuries. In part they may have originated as a Christian substitute for pagan rites in honor of Robigo, the god believed to be the protector of crops from mildew. In any event, the form followed from earliest days was that of a Litany, a long collection and series of prayers of intercession and praise. In England, the use of litanies on these days is still widespread, combined with the (to us) quaint custom of “beating the bounds” of the parish in procession.
In the American Church, the use of litanies on the Rogation Days has been abandoned. But the Rogation Days themselves have not been abandoned and Propers are provided by the Prayer Book for these days so that in solemn Eucharist we may seek God’s beneficence for the new crop year. We are still dependant for our lives on the fruits of the earth which God permits us to produce and reap by our labor. The least we can do is to implore His blessings on the land in the spring, as we give thanks for them in the autumn.