There used to be four Rogation Days on the Church calendar. The Greater Rogation Day was April 25th, which is also the feast of St. Mark. Three lesser Rogation Days were the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day. On these days were customarily held processions during which fields and crops were blessed and the Litany of the Saints recited. The purpose of these observances was to obtain from God a fruitful harvest.
Our family does not grow crops. The only field on our property is a septic field. The closest thing to vegetables that we’ve managed to grow is onion grass. Obviously, ours is not an agrarian lifestyle. But every April 25th we process around our property, sidestepping vole burrows and yard toys to earnestly sprinkle holy water over the whole scraggly acreage. Are we devout? Or just crazy?
To answer those questions, we have to take a close look at the word “rogation.” It comes from the Latin verb, “rogare,” which means, “to ask.” Rogation Days were ordained by the Church to be days of petition. They were a time set aside for all of the faithful – farmers, city-dwellers, those who were green-thumbed and those who were all thumbs – to ask God to provide for their most basic needs. Since all received their daily bread ultimately from God, Who gives us “every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit…for food” (Genesis 1:29), all were exhorted to petition Him for a bountiful harvest.
Although their observance is no longer obligatory, Rogation Days still provide us with an opportunity to pause and reflect upon the life that is all around us and on the gracious Lord Who sustains it. The springtime naturally stirs us to a greater awareness of God’s presence, and a desire for His continued providence. We behold God’s goodness and draw near to Him in supplication, and He gives us all that we need. What better reason for a celebration?
Ours always begins with a gathering up of musical instruments. Over the years these have included everything from paper cup maracas and a chrome triangle with a ballpoint pen striker, to a violin, tin whistle, and bodhran drum. All the children but one choose instruments with which to make a joyful noise. The oldest boy present does not join the band, but is instead given a large crucifix to carry at the head of the procession. Mom picks up a sprinkler bottle of holy water and Dad an old prayer book, and off we go into the yard.
With the cross-bearer leading the column, the procession wends its way along the fence that encloses the big, sloping yard. The terrain is rocky and often wet from April rains, but no one seems to mind. The kids revel in the unaccustomed opportunity to make as much noise as they want, and they really let loose with their music makers. But soon the drumming, whistling, rattling, strumming kids begin to weary of unbridled revelry, and are glad to lend their voices to a more melodic effort. “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” are two hymns that we like to sing while processing. After the singing, Dad begins the moving Litany of the Saints. He reads aloud from a favorite old prayer book replete with “thees” and “thous” and “wouldsts.” It’s always surprising to hear the fervor in the children’s responses of “We beseech Thee, hear us.”
During the recitation of the litany, Mom sprinkles the ground with holy water as the procession continues into the front yard. She adds silent prayers of her own at the steepest grade of the yard (“That no one should ever hit the brick wall while sledding”), near the shrub that harbored a hornet’s nest last year (“That no one should get stung this summer”), and at the gate of the fence (“That no evil should enter”). The procession closes with the nailing of small crosses to several trees, and the Blessing of Crosses to be Placed in Fields and Vineyards:
V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.
Let us pray. Almighty, everlasting God, Father of goodness and consolation, in virtue of the bitter suffering of thy Sole-Begotten Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, endured for us sinners on the wood of the Cross, bless these crosses which thy faithful will erect in their vineyards, fields, and gardens. Protect the land where they are placed from hail, tornado, storm, and every assault of the enemy, so that their fruits ripened to the harvest may be gathered to thy honor by those who place their hope in the holy Cross of thy Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee eternally. Amen.
It seems fitting that a Rogation Day celebration include a partaking of the fruits of the field, so there is always a strawberry-stuffed shortcake waiting indoors. After the cake has been eaten, the hymns sung, and the prayers and blessings said, there remains the certainty that we – along with our cats, our unkempt hedges, and our onion grass – are, along with the whole of God’s creation, resting in the palm of His hand.
Copyright 2011 Celeste Behe