On May 1st, we will celebrate Rogation Sunday. This Sunday was originally so called because of the words in the Prayer Book gospel for the day: "Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give to you". (The Latin is 'Rogare' - to ask.) In the strictly biblical context, the chief thing to ask for is the spirit of God to enable us to be true children of God. By the 17th century, the old Roman festival of 'Terminalia", or "boundaries", had been adapted by the church and served a practical purpose. In days before survey maps, there were not always clear lines of demarcation between the parishes, especially where there were open field systems. During the procession, boys were bumped on prominent marks and boundary stones, or rolled in briars and ditches, or thrown in the pond to ensure they never forgot the boundaries! The Victorians made it more civilized by beating objects rather than people, in the context of a service and procession.
In the Western Church, processions to bless the crops and to include "beating the bounds", developed from the old Roman rites of Robigalia (robigo: Latin for "rust" or "mould"), when prayers would be offered to the gods for crops to be spared from mildew.
These rogation themes of blessing the fields and beating the bounds were commended in the 1630s by the poet George Herbert, that epitome of English country parsons. He said that processions should be encouraged for four reasons:
- Blessing of God for the fruits of the field.
- Justice in the preservation of bounds.
- Charity in loving, walking and neighborly accompanying one another with reconciling of differences at the time if there be any.
- Mercy, in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of our excess.
Today the emphasis has shifted. A blessing on growing crops in fields and gardens, and on young lambs and calves remains. In the agricultural cycle, the main themes are seed sowing and the tending of young plants and animals. While seed sowing is now done all the year round, as is the birth and rearing of the young, it is convenient to fix on one particular festival as the time to remember these before God in a public way. Rogation takes place in the springtime, when there is a renewing of the earth. In our country, it follows Easter, the season of resurrection, usually on the Sixth Sunday in Eastertide. Renewal and resurrection therefore are also underlying themes of this occasion.
We will observe the day at the 10:30 Eucharist by use of The Great Litany at the end of the Eucharist with a procession to the Memorial Garden between the Church and the Parish Hall where we will bless the flora there blooming. If you are a gardener, you are encouraged to bring a package of soil from your garden, seeds, or other elements of your gardening (including tools if you are so inclined) to be blessed for the growing season ahead.