Rogation Days

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Related to Rogation Days: Rogation Sunday, Ember days

Rogation Days,

in the calendar of the Western Church, four days traditionally set apart for solemn processions to invoke God's mercy. They are Apr. 25, the Major Rogation, coinciding with St. Mark's Day; and the three days preceding Ascension Day, the Minor Rogations. The processions are Christian adaptations of Roman pagan ones; in rural districts they are regarded as blessing the fields. The prayers include the Litany of the Saints (see litanylitany
[Gr.,=prayer], solemn prayer characterized by varying petitions with set responses. The term is mainly used for Christian forms. Litanies were developed in Christendom for use in processions.
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). Such liturgical usages are no longer prescribed in the universal Roman Catholic liturgical calendar; observance is left to the discretion of the national councils of bishops.
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Rogation Days

The Rogation Days fall on April 25 and on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday that precede Ascension Day. The Church established these days of prayer, fasting, and processions as a formal means of asking God for a good harvest, protection against natural disasters, and forgiveness of sins.


Most scholars agree that the early Christians based the Rogation Days on an ancient Roman spring festival called Robigalia. The name Robigalia comes from robigo, the Latin word for rust, a crop disease. The Romans dedicated Robigalia to various ceremonies aimed at protecting the ripening spring crops from this disease. They celebrated it on April 25 by marching in procession down the via Flaminia to the Milvian bridge. There they offered the entrails of a dog and a sheep to the god Robigus in the hope that he would then spare their crops.

Roman Christians imitated many of these practices. On April 25 they held similar processions but concluded by praying to their own God to preserve the crops. In the sixth century Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) standardized this observance.

In the year 470 a French bishop called for three days of prayer, fasting, and processions in order to protect his earthquake-ravaged diocese from further tremors. He scheduled these days of prayer and penance for the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preceding Ascension Day (for more on penance, see Repentance). This observance spread throughout France and reached Rome around the ninth century. In Rome the pope combined these ceremonies with those already occurring on April 25. He mandated that the most important religious services take place on April 25 and the other, lesser services on the three days preceding the Ascension. English speakers call these four days of prayer and processions the Rogation Days. The word rogation comes from the Latin word rogare, meaning "ask" or "plead." April 25 is known as the Major Rogation, and the other days as the Minor Rogations. St. Mark's Day is also observed on April 25, although this observance is not related to the Rogation Days. In addition, although the Sunday before Ascension Day was not one of the original Rogation Days, the spirit of the Rogation Days influenced the way in which it was observed and inspired people to call it Rogation Sunday.

Beating the Bounds

In medieval England the Rogation Days 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. Priests and cross-bearers led these long walks in the countryside. Accordingly, the English sometimes called the Rogation Days the "Walking Days" from the Old Anglo-Saxon name for the observance, Gang Daegas, meaning approximately "Day of Going About." They also called them the "Cross Days," a reference to the cross carried at the head of the processions. Scholars trace the custom of prayerful perimeter-walking back to the Roman festival of Ambargalia, in which the Romans paced the perimeter of their fields asking the gods to bless them with fertility. In any case, those who participated in the Rogation Day walks were expected to fast before the procession, and to treat the event as a sober religious exercise rather than a holiday in the countryside. Nevertheless, people tended to turn the event into an expression of pride in their parish. On occasion, an excess of "team spirit" led some parish groups to attack others that they encountered.

After the Reformation - a western European religious reform movement that began in the sixteenth century - some of the newly formed Protestant denominations attempted to eliminate folk customs associated with the Rogation Days. In England Rogation processions were curtailed, though not completely eliminated. At a later date, however, people revived them. Some writers believe that the processions served an important social as well as religious function by teaching youth the parish boundary lines in an era when maps were not in common circulation. Youngsters accompanying the procession were often bumped against stone boundary markers, tossed into streams that divided one parish from another, or forced to climb hedges, walls, or even houses built over the boundary lines. Some writers speculate that this painful process gave rise to the folk name for the custom, "beating the bounds." Presumably this ordeal left the boys with a permanent if somewhat unpleasant memory of the exact location of the parish boundaries. On the other hand, the name may come from the common custom of beating the boundary markers with wooden wands so as to impress their location upon the memory. Indeed some parish processions did not subject participants to painful ordeals other than the walk itself, which could be quite taxing. In many locations adults and children who took part in these excursions were rewarded with coins, sweets, fruit, nuts, bread, cheese, or ale along the way.

The beating of the bounds during the Rogation Days reached the height of its popularity around 1700 and then entered a long, slow decline. Folklorists attribute this decline to the enclosure of what had once been open fields, as well as waning belief in the effectiveness of the processions as a means of finding favor with God. In recent years these old Rogationtide processions have experienced a modest revival. Priests lead parish children in yearly Ascension Day processions in the university town of Oxford. In Chudleigh, near Exeter, ambitious parishioners beat the bounds of their parish every seven years. The expedition takes the party over a twenty-one-mile route, requiring at least one volunteer to swim the river Teign and the entire party to board a bus in order to cross a busy highway. The arduous nature of the task seems to have inspired the seven-year delay between processions.

Rural Life Sunday and the Cancelling of the Rogation Days

Since 1929 many churches in the United States have observed Rogation Sunday as Rural Life Sunday, or Soil Stewardship Sunday. Services on this day examine the religious aspects of rural life. In 1969 the Roman Catholic Church cancelled the Rogation Days. In their place Church authorities instituted days of prayer for human needs, human works, and the fruits of the earth. Local bishops may now set appropriate dates for these observances in their dioceses.

Further Reading

Blackburn, Bonnie, and Leofranc Holford-Strevens. The Oxford Companion to the Year. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1999. Harper, Howard. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1990. Henderson, Helene, and Sue Ellen Thompson, eds. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. Second edition. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1997. Hole, Christina. British Folk Customs. London, England: Hutchinson and Company, 1976. Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the Sun. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996. James, E. O. Seasonal Feasts and Festivals. 1961. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1993. Metford, J. C. J. The Christian Year. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1991. Miller, J. H. "Rogation Days." In New Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 12. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967. Niemann, Paul J. The Lent, Triduum, and Easter Answer Book. San Jose, CA: Resource Publications, 1998. O'Connor, Joseph E. "Rogation Days." In Charles G. Herbermann et al., eds. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Appleton, 1913. Available online at: "Rogation Days." In E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Chris- tian Church. Third edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. Scullard, H. H. Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1981.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002

Rogation Days (Rogationtide, Soil and Water Stewardship Week)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: April 25 and the three days preceding Ascension Day
Where Celebrated: England, France, Germany, United States, and by Christians all over the West
Symbols and Customs: Beating the Bounds, Litanies, Reconciliation
Related Holidays: Ember Days ORIGINS

Rogation Days is a three-day period in the Christian faith that involves prayers, processions, and asking for God's help. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ, a title derived from the Greek word meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.

With nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe, Christianity is the largest of the world's religions. There is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects.

The word "rogation" comes from the Latin rogare, meaning "to ask or beseech." It was Bishop Mamertus of Viennes, France, who came up with the idea of setting aside the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before ASCENSION DAY for processions and LITANIES to ask not only for God's blessings but for his protection. During the years when Mamertus was bishop (461-475 C . E .), France was struck by more than the usual number of natural disasters, including floods, fires, earthquakes, and plagues, as well as by rioting, looting, and invasions. Mamertus called for three days of prayer, fasting, and penitence in the hope that God would forgive the people for their sins and protect them from further catastrophe. He led 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.

The idea caught on, and by 511 C . E . the custom of holding processions with litanies on these three days, known as the Minor Rogations, had spread throughout the country. Soon the entire Western Church was observing the Rogation Days, which in England were called "Gang" or "Gange" Days, from the Anglo-Saxon word gangen, meaning "to go" or "to walk." The Church of England used these Rogation Days

days as an opportunity to reconfirm parish boundaries (see BEATING THE BOUNDS ) and to settle differences among church members (see RECONCILIATION ). Over the centuries, Rogationtide became primarily a time to bless the fields and the crops, although prayers for protection from natural disasters never disappeared from the observation entirely. In Cold Springs, Minnesota, for example, the Rogation Days are devoted to commemorating the end of the grasshopper plague that devastated the crops in 1877. There is a procession to the "Grasshopper Chapel" that was built afterward to show appreciation to God for answering the farmers' prayers. Elsewhere in the United States, the fifth Sunday after EASTER is known as Rural Life Sunday or Soil Stewardship Sunday, and the week that follows is known as Soil and Water Stewardship Week. Since 1955 the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) has sponsored this observance, setting it aside as a time to focus on the importance of soil and water conservation.

April 25 is known as the Major Rogation because it dates back even further than the time of Mamertus. Scholars believe that it was instituted by the Roman Catholics to replace the Robigalia, an ancient Roman feast held on this date in honor of the bisexual corn god Robigus (also known as the goddess Robigo), in hopes that he/she would protect the corn crop from blight. Observation of the Robigalia involved a procession to the grove that served as a shrine to Robigus about four miles outside the city of Rome, where animal sacrifices were made and a celebration with games and amusements followed. Like the Minor Rogations, the Major Rogation was essentially a time to bless the fields and crops and ask for protection from natural disasters.


Beating the Bounds

The ancient Romans held processions on April 25 to win the favor of Robigus/Robigo, the corn god/goddess. When Christianity came to Rome, it retained the processions but held them in honor of the Christian God and included LITANIES . Bishop Mamertus instituted processions on the three days preceding ASCENSION DAY, and in England the Ascension Day processions were used to reconfirm the existence of parish boundaries-a practice known as "beating the bounds." The congregation would follow the parish priest while reciting a Litany of the Saints, pausing from time to time while the priest sprinkled holy water on the trees, stones, and other natural objects that served as boundary markers. In the days before modern maps and techniques of surveying had been invented, this was the only method available to impress on people's memories just where the limits of the parish lay. Sometimes young people were tossed into streams, bumped against stones, and dragged over walls and hedges so that it was unlikely that in their lifetimes they would ever forget where these markers lay. Some villages in England still "beat the bounds" during Rogationtide or on Ascension Day, stopping at boundary stones or trees while a clergyman reads from the Bible or recites a prayer.


The public prayers known as litanies, which involve invocations by one or more persons followed by set responses-for example, "His mercy endureth forever"- from a group, are derived from ancient Jewish tradition. Litanies were often used while marching in processions because they gave people a rhythm to march to and a chance to rest and catch their breath, and the two terms eventually became synonymous. When Mamertus established the processions associated with the Minor Rogations in 470 C . E ., he called them "litanies" because of their penitential nature. The word "litany," in fact, comes from the Greek litaneia, meaning "supplication," which makes it equivalent to the Latin rogare, "to beseech," from which the Rogation Days take their name.


During the Middle Ages, the Rogation Days were dedicated not only to blessing the harvest and asking for God's protection but to settling arguments among parishioners. By participating in communitywide processions, individuals who were angry with one another would often settle their disputes and put their personality conflicts to rest.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Dunkling, Leslie. A Dictionary of Days. New York: Facts on File, 1988. Harper, Howard V. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Lemprière, John. Lemprière's Classical Dictionary. Revised ed. London: Bracken, 1994. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Trawicky, Bernard, and Ruth W. Gregory. Anniversaries and Holidays. 5th ed. Chicago: American Library Assocation, 2000. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992. Weiser, Franz Xaver. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958. Rogation Days


New Advent Catholic Encylopedia
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Rogation Days

Between April 30 and June 3; Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preceding Ascension Day
Since medieval times, the three days before Ascension Day (called Holy Thursday in Great Britain) have been known as Rogation Days (from rogare, "to pray"). Both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches set them aside as days of abstinence and prayer, especially for the harvest.
In many churches in the United States Rogation Sunday, the fifth Sunday after Easter, has been known as Rural Life Sunday or Soil Stewardship Sunday since 1929—a day when the religious aspects of agricultural life are emphasized. It is also known as Cantate Sunday because the Latin Mass for this day begins with the first words of Psalm 98, Cantate Domino, "Sing to the Lord."
The Rogation Days also had a secular meaning at one time in England, where they were called Gang Days or Gange Days —from the Saxon word gangen, meaning "to go." There was a custom of walking the parish boundaries during the three days before Holy Thursday (Ascension Day), the procession consisting of the priests and prelates of the church and a select number of men from the parish. Later, these Rogation Days were set aside for special local celebrations. In 19th-century Dorsetshire, for example, a local festival called the Bezant was held each year on Rogation Monday.
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 339
BkDays-1864, vol. I, p. 582
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 135
DictDays-1988, pp. 19, 46, 96
EncyEaster-2002, p. 532
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 99
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 336
OxYear-1999, p. 628
RelHolCal-2004, p. 95
SaintFestCh-1904, p. 227
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
(35.) Rogation days were traditionally observed on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day and asked for divine favor for the coming growing season.
Here Latinate "Rogation Days" does not communicate clearly any salient feature of the observance at issue, but an apparently unparalleled bit of English slang for the occasion offers a neat encapsulation of a primary responsibility at this season, the unusual holiday observance that does not encourage stuffing yourself.
At the Rogation days immediately preceding, it was customary for the clergy, and people, to perambulate the parish boundaries, and at certain prescribed spots, to offer prayers for the fruitfulness of the fields and a plenteous yield at the following harvest day In Cornwall, the blind and lame would go on pilgrimage to the Holy Well of St Cleer on Ascension Day, hoping for a miracle to cure their ailments.
Our movement toward God, using the metaphor of pilgrimage, becomes real on Rogation days when we walk through the fields, as we sing the Litany of the Saints, as we march from one place to the other.
Rogation Days, first fixed by the English Church in 747, were certainly prefigured by the blessing of the fields during the Roman Ambarvalia.