Fifty years ago, the Sunday before Ascension Day was commonly observed as Rogation Sunday, with an emphasis on praying for God’s blessing on the fruits of the earth and the labours of men and women. The Prayer Book Gospel for the day was appropriate to the general theme of petitionary and intercessory prayer. The occasion was often observed further by a procession, which sometimes took the form of’beating the bounds’ of the parish. The three following days were Rogation Days, and continued the same theme.
In the ASB and CW revisions, it has rightly been felt that the Easter concentration on the Resurrection should not be lost on a Sunday within Eastertide, with the result that the Rogation observance is now confined to the three weekdays preceding Ascension Day, but sadly in practice widely ignored. This is partly due to a growing reluctance on the part of many Anglican worshippers to observe a festival falling on a weekday, which has led in turn to the growing practice of transferring certain festivals to the nearest Sunday.
It may well be felt that the existing timing of this observance is far from ideal. At the same time the Rogation Days are a timely reminder of our dependence on nature, and ultimately on God the Creator, for our daily sustenance. They encapsulate the petition of the Lord’s Prayer in which we ask God for our daily bread, understood in its simplest and most natural sense.
It is interesting to see that the Common Worship: Times and Seasons volume devotes a whole section to seasons and festivals of the agricultural year, which can so easily be overlooked. The CWLec-tionary provides readings on the theme of creation for the Second Sunday before Lent. It also makes provision for the revival of a once widespread observance of the First Sunday of Epiphany as Plough Sunday, although this will conflict with its normal use as the Baptism of Christ, and of Lammastide as a thanksgiving for the first-fruits of the wheat harvest, traditionally observed on 1 August.
Earlier generations were inevitably more aware of our close dependence on agriculture, and it is good that the CW provisions are encouraging a recovery of this perspective. Perhaps consideration might be given in future adjustments to the possibility of moving the Rogation observance to a different point in the year, such as the period between the Presentation of Christ and the beginning of Lent, although an early Easter would occasionally exclude this possibility.
At all events Rogation Days, whenever observed, will, like the other seasons of the agricultural year, need to be appropriately adjusted in modern times to include such aspects as our responsibility for the stewardship of creation, care for the environment, and the just distribution of the earth’s resources. In such ways, adapted in scope, and possibly eventually also in timing, they will continue to ensure the relevance of the liturgical year to daily life.