Seed, Spade and Sword: The Bible In Context

Helping to illuminate biblical context and background

Rogation: The Church comes forth to ask the help of the Almighty in our work on farm and field

For decades my Book of Common Prayer 1940 mocked me with a Sunday Service heading: Rogation Sunday. I had no idea what the words meant.

Thanks to the fine sermoner at St. Paul's Episcopal, Rochester New York, Father Robert Pickens, I now know what that title means. I now know what The Church is teaching. You see, among the Catholic faiths including Church of England and the American Episcopalians , yesterday was Rogation Sunday -- a lunar feast based on the timing of Easter.

Rogation comes from the Latin rogare, to ask.  On this day, our many church families leave their high halls and process around the parish all the while singing praises and asking God’s blessing on our farmlands, the crops, our livestock and indeed upon all the untamed countryside that sustain us. In the distant past our forebears ‘Beat the Bounds’ by processing around the boundaries of their parishes, praying for the success of the newly sown crops, for fair weather and for God to keep the harvest free from disease.  Just because we have become divorced from the sources of our sustenance is no reason to forget whence come all that lets us live.

Hever in Kent, Early 20th Century

There are Minor Rogation days (who knew.,..) in contrast to the Major Rogation Day, which was kept on April 25th. The origin of the Minor Days seems to be an order by Mamertus, the Bishop of Vienne (in Gaul) in about AD 470. After an earthquake he instructed that special litanies be offered for God’s care and protection, asking for provision by heaven of the fruit of the earth. The custom spread through Gaul, to England and to Rome. In England the custom was required by Canon 16 of the Council of Clovesho in 747.

Martin Luther saw no cause to forego these observances; on the contrary, he strengthened them.  The Rogation Days survived the Reformation in England and thus in 1559 we find Queen Elizabeth requiring by Royal Injunction the restoration of a perambulation of the parish boundaries/fields to pray for a good harvest. Likewise, in 1562 the official [Second] Book of Homilies included “An Homily for the Days of Rogation Week”, which was divided into three parts in keeping with the 3 Rogation Days..

In his Prayer Book of  1784. Wesley would forego the Rogation Days, but keep Rogation Sunday and allow it to be moved as needed.

The Rogation Days were typically kept by the clergy and people processing around the parish boundaries, while saying or singing prayers. It is from these Rogation Day prayers, as they are found in the Sarum Missal, that Cranmer formulated the Litany (1545), his first work of liturgical reform. .After this it became the custom that in any parish in which the Rogation Day procession was not being observed, the Litany was sung in the church instead.

This would be Rogation in France around 1820

Special readings, hymns and prayers are appointed for this church Volksmarch. We read them and sing them and pray them all around the world as the sun lights our various dawns and sets our days.

Our family has made excursions like these for Millennia. The timing of our Day is imposed by climate. It marks the planting time of Spring. In the Levant and southern Mediterranean basin it is not the end of winter that sets the agricultural clock; it is the end of Summer; it is the coming of the rain in the Fall. It is Sukkoth  It is also the fall of dew starting around the time of Pesach. (for more on this theme , see  )

However, Rogation approximates the time of the Omer Offering, the time of the blessing of grain and of the special offering of barley to the Temple from the fields surrounding Jerusalem.  So there is a strong connection between this tradition and our common past.

On the 16th day of Nisan, the barley to be used in the Omer offering was harvested in a grand public event.
Residents of the villages surrounding Jerusalem would all come out to take part in the joyous occasion.
( )

But, although public, the Omer Offering was a harvest 'thank You' and not a planting  '...please...'  I nevertheless appreciate this thread that runs from our distant past. 

Rogation Procession, Europe around 1840, Germany, I think

St Michael's, Buckenham, England.  In this picture taken on Rogation Sunday in April 1967 the Rector, Rev. Samuel Collins, followed by the choir, parishioners and the New Buckenham Silver Band walk the parish boundaries and pause to bless the stream. You can almost hear them:

Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labor to gather them, that we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give you thanks...

On land and sea we process in praise and supplication

Rogation in Cornwall by Titcomb

St. Mary's Church, Sulhamstead Abbots, Berkshire , England went out yesterday and got the pictures of their fun excursion posted online in less than a day. These are great photos. See them here:

Here is a little of what they said and sang:

"The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. The compass of the world and all those who dwell in it.
There is a time for working and a time for resting, a time for plowing and a time for sowing, a time for dressing and a time for harvesting, there is a time for lambing and a time for culling, there is a time for the byre*, a time for the field, a time for the market and a time for the desk; and there is a time greatly to be longed for, when all is completed and God is all in all"


They remembered Isaiah:

Isaiah; Chapter 11, verses 6 – 9

The wolf shall also dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

Prayer and Blessing for Livestock

Lord God, you surround us and all things living with your love; we thank you for the companionship of animals and birds, without which there would be for humankind a great loneliness of spirit. When we are careless of them and forget that they are your creatures, forgive us we pray. May God’s blessing shower upon all his creatures; both animals and plants, herds, flocks and crops, may we ever be grateful for your abundance and flourish; in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.



We plow the fields, and scatter
the good seed on the land,
but it is fed and watered
by God’s almighty hand:
he sends the snow in winter,
the warmth to swell the grain,
the breezes, and the sunshine,
the soft, refreshing rain.

          All good gifts around us
          are sent from heaven above;
          then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord,
          for all his love.

We thank  thee then, O Father,
for all things bright and good,
the seed-time and the harvest,
our life, our health, our food.
Accept the gifts we offer
for all thy love imparts,
and, what thou most desirest,
our humble, thankful hearts.

          All good gifts around us
          are sent from heaven above;
          then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord,
          for all his love

We pause to pray amidst your meadows, Oh Lord

And praise your name on our city streets
(Near Riverside Drive -- Upper West Side, New York )

Parting Blessing

May the road rise to meet you,
may the wind be always at your back,
may the sun shine warm upon your face,
may the rain fall soft upon your fields;

and until we meet again
may God hold you in the palm of his hand;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always


This is amazing -- the entire village is out for Rogation Sunday

While it is a mitzvah that some faith families have marked special days for us go forth to ask the Lord's blessings on our gardens and animal friends, every faith family keeps its own calendar according to place on the face of the earth. The important thing is to remember to do it. 

If your faith community does not go forth as was once our common custom, I entreat you to encourage your fellows to do so.

It is good for the Church and for your Community at large.

While I am sure it pleases the Lord, that we worship in the temples we built to honor Him,
I am equally sure the Lord is pleased to see us honor Him with worship abroad
in the one, great, o'er-arching temple
He has made for us. 


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Tags: bless_animals, bless_crops, bless_fisheries, nisan, omer, omer_offering, procession, rogation


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