What are the Rogation Days?

Rogation Days are an old religious custom which is now seldom observed in the Catholic Church, and many Catholics haven't even heard of them. Episcopal parishes sometimes still observe them, and many people have them on a personal liturgical calendar.

Ok - so what are they?

The word "rogation" come from the Latin rogare, which means "to ask," and the Rogation Days are four days set apart to bless the fields, and ask for God's mercy on all of creation. April 25 (coincidentally the Feast of St. Mark) is called the Major Rogation; the three days preceding Ascension Thursday are called the Minor Rogations. On these days, the congregation used to march the boundaries of the parish, blessing every tree and stone, while chanting or reciting a Litany of Mercy, usually a Litany of the Saints. A few still do.

The Rogation Days were first instituted in the 5th Century by Mamertus, bishop of Vienne in France from 461 to 475. His Episcopacy was marked by near-continuous disaster. In the space of a single year - around AD 470 - a fire destroyed the king's palace, a pestilence killed the cattle, the populace was terrorized by attacks of hungry wolves, and there were earthquakes.

In response, Mamertus led his flock in three days of prayer and procession leading up to the feast of the Ascension, He is reported to have said: "We shall pray to God that He will turn away the plagues from us, and preserve us from all ill, from hail and drought, fire and pestilence, and from the fury of our enemies; to give us favorable seasons, that our land may be fertile, good weather and good health, and that we may have peace and tranquility, and obtain pardon for our sins." The disasters ended. Other bishops in the region quickly adopted the same practice. In AD 511, the Fifth Council of Orleans made the three days of prayer mandatory in France. In the 9th Century, Pope Leo III extended the practice to the entire church.

Over the centuries, it became the custom to also use the procession to "beat the bounds" - to mark and establish the boundaries of the parish - while also blessing the trees, stones and fields. In modern times, the actual purpose of "beating the bounds" - to impress the boundaries of the village on everyone's mind - has ceased to be necessary due to modern surveying techniques, and the practice is largely ceremonial.

The standard practice in the Episcopal Church is to pray for fruitful seasons on Monday, commerce and industry on Tuesday, and stewardship of creation on Wednesday. When currently observed, the practice frequently has an environmental bent, and is a time to be reminded of the obligations to be good stewards of God's creation.

- Carl Fortunato


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