Rogationtide is a very ancient season of the Church’s Year. In 470 AD the town of Vienne in France had the misfortune to be visited by a series of earthquakes and accompanying storms of great violence which threatened to cause so much destruction to crops as to bring about a grave shortage of food. Whereupon Mamertus, the good bishop of the place, called his flock to prayer and vowed to institute processions on the three days before Ascension Day. The storms abated and this observance of Rogationtide spread widely, and already existed as a custom in England in the year 747 when it was definitely ordered to be held annually.
So for centuries petitions were made to God for preservation from plagues and natural calamities and especially for his blessing on the growing crops. Processions were held during which litanies were chanted. ‘Rogation’ is derived from the Latin rogare ‘to ask’.
However, with the development of industrial life, Rogationtide came to be a time of prayer for all the labours of human hands which, in the poet’s words, are needed,
“To get the whole world out of bed
And washed, and dressed, and warmed, and fed,
To work, and back to bed again”. (1)
And so today, the Rogation Days are the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day. Rogation Sunday, if it is observed, occurs on the Sunday before Ascension Day i.e. the Fifth Sunday after Easter in the Book of Common Prayer, the Sixth Sunday of Easter in Common Worship.
In the Book of Common Prayer the Litany includes asking God for deliverance from “lightning and tempest; from plague, pestilence, and famine…” It also asks, “That it may please thee to give and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth, so as in due time we may enjoy them”.
Common Worship provides resource material for the Agricultural Year which includes Rogationtide worship, litanies for the Rogationtide procession, and readings. The Litany reflects wide-ranging concerns e.g. the care of this planet; the needs of unemployed people; charities, aid agencies and overseas development; the care and welfare of animals.
1. Masefield, J. (1923) ‘The Everlasting Mercy’ In Collected poems, London: William Heinemann Ltd.