By H. Boone Porter
The Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preceding Ascension Day are traditionally known as Rogation Days, or “asking days,” when we ask and pray for God’s blessing on crops, herds, and other sources of food. In some places this is extended to include forests, mines, factories, and other places of human work and employment. The increasing mechanization and commercialization of American life had, in the middle of this century, tended to make the agricultural associations of Rogationtide seem obsolete. Today we are coming to recognize once more that the ultimate sources of our national well-being are still in large part “down on the farm.”
Because liturgical activities on weekdays are usually somewhat limited, and because on this week major emphasis obviously should be given to the Holy Thursday of the Ascension, Rogationtide ceremonies are more likely to be observed on the previous Sunday. The 1928 Prayer Book (but not earlier editions) even went so far as to call it Rogation Sunday. During the recent process of Prayer Book revision, all of this came up for reconsideration. The title “Rogation Sunday” was discontinued. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were no longer called Rogation Days, since the traditional penitential character of such days did not seem to fit in the Easter season, yet readings relating to the Rogation there were retained in the daily offices. Propers for Rogation masses were given, but they were detached from the Church Year and offered for use at any time, according to the climate and nature of agriculture or other activities in various localities.
Such flexibility is welcome in places where the blessing of crops is a serious matter, but the total dropping of Rogationtide from the cycle of the liturgical year was less favorably received. In the course of trial use, strong representations for its restoration were made by the Rural Workers’ Fellowship, the Joint Commission on the Church in Small Communities, and others. The Standing Liturgical Commission responded by restoring the Rogation Days to the list of special days in the year (Proposed Prayer Book, page 18) and by reworking the propers, for each year of the three year cycle, for the Sixth Sunday within the Easter Season, which this year occurs on May 15.
The unique pattern of the propers for all Sundays between Easter Day and Whitsunday is maintained. This means that four biblical passages (besides a psalm) are appointed, of which two or three are to be used in the eucharist, always including the Gospel from St. John. If three biblical readings are to be used at the liturgy, the first reading will either be a selection from the Acts or an Old Testament lesson from Joel. The second will either be an Epistle from Revelation, or the passage from Acts if it was not previously read. The Gospel then follows. If only two readings are used (which will be a pity on this occasion) either Joel, or Acts, or Revelation will first be read, and then the Gospel. If Morning or Evening Prayer is used as the principal service on Sunday, either two or three of the same passages are to be used. The rubrics of the Proposed Prayer Book appear to omit in the daily offices the reading from Acts, were desired in place of the Old Testament, on these Sundays of the Easter Season.
On this particular Sunday this year, what do these passages provide? The Gospel is a favorite passage from St. John, promising the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is similar to the other Gospels read in this season. The passage from Acts is also congruent with those of the other Sundays, but this week we have Paul’s great sermon at Lystra, proclaiming the witness to God in rain and fruitful seasons. Joel also provides a striking testimony to the manifestation of our Creator in rain and the fertility of nature. Psalm 67 is one customarily associated with the Rogations. The readings from Revelation in Eastertide are a welcome new feature of the lectionary. In this week’s passage, nature is transformed and glorified and we see the river of the water of life, nourishing the tree of life with its ever-bearing fruit, and its leaves for the healing of the nations.
All of this will offer preachers and teachers plenty of scope to deal with the spiritual dimensions of food and agriculture. There is scope too for the distinctly paschal theme of God’s manifestation himself within his creation to those whose eyes are brightened by the perception of the blessed hope he has put before us. As for hymns, in addition to those customarily associated with the Rogationtide, we would recommend numbers 92, 301, and 281. The latter should always be sung to the great Beethoven tune for which it was written, and with which it will be found in the hymnals of many other denominations.
The Rev. Dr. H. Boone Porter was editor of The Living Church from 1977-1990.This article was published in our May 1, 1977 issue.