A Brief History of Rogationtide
(Occurs annually on April 25 and the 3 days preceding Ascension Thursday)
As you may have noticed, the liturgical year and seasonal year often complement one another. We celebrate Easter in the springtime when the earth itself is renewed with blossoming flowers and budding leaves. The Nativity of St. John the Baptist falls midyear on June 24, around the time of the summer solstice, after which time the length of days steadily decreases until the winter solstice, which marks the shortest day of the year (recall John 3:30). The days then began to lengthen again, coinciding with the birth of the Light of the World, the Nativity of Christ on December 25. This is no mere coincidence, of course, because as we read throughout Scripture, all creation declares the glory of God!
Similarly, throughout history, the Church celebrated seasonal days of penance and thanksgiving often tied to planting and harvesting. One ancient example, established by Pope Gregory I in 598, are the Rogation Days, which are celebrated each year on April 25, the Major Rogation, and the three days preceding the Solemnity of the Ascension, the Minor Rogations (in 2021, the Minor Rogation Days fall on the May 10, 11, and 12 preceding Ascension Thursday on May 13). The name “Rogation” is derived from the Latin word rogare, meaning “to ask,” which is fitting as the Rogation Days were days historically offered to God to ask His blessing during the spring planting season for a bountiful crop and protection from natural disasters.
Rogation festivities included processions around the parish boundaries while blessing the fields and crops, accompanied by the singing of Psalms and the recitation of the Litany of Saints. Sometimes the Rogation Days are also called “Cross Days,” because the procession would halt occasionally to mark the sign of the cross on a tree and read from the New Testament before resuming. Because Rogationtide falls during the Easter season, they were also traditionally observed as days of abstinence from meat.
While Rogationtide is no longer obligatory, you can still observe this ancient practice at home by abstaining from meat on these days (find family friendly meatless meals to enjoy here!) and doing your own procession around the “parish boundaries” of your Domestic Church! As your family walks around your yard, you can chant the Psalm “All ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord,” and use Holy Water to bless your garden. End your festivities with the Litany of the Saints and pray for all farmers and those who affected by natural disasters.