Rogation Days

Apparently, Rogation Days are back in vogue. For the uninitiated, Rogation Days, or Rogation Sunday was the traditional time for the Blessing of the crops, fixed on the Sunday before the Ascenscion. Traditionally, Rogation Sunday involved the “Beating of the Bounds” when the priest would lead a procession that followed the geographical limits of the parish, imploring God to provide a bountiful harvest, and also exorcising Satan. This could cause conflict, as Eamon Duffy points out in The Stripping of the Altars, for if Satan were expelled from one parish, where else might he go but the neighboring one. Thus, the choreography of parish processions was carefully orchestrated so as to prevent processions from different parishes encountering each other in the course of their journeys. If they did so, conflict might erupt.

I’m of two minds about Rogation celebrations. On the one hand, I see their utility, particularly in agricultural settings, and as a reminder that the parish is not just a self-selected community of like-minded people, but extends to all those who live within its bounds, however defined. In addition, at my former parish of St. James, we had a parish vegetable garden that was blessed last year on Rogation Sunday.

On the other hand, when I think of prayers for a bountiful harvest, I’m always reminded of something my dad said on the drive home from church one Sunday when I was a boy. The church I grew up stood in the middle of cornfields in Northwestern Ohio, and most of its members were still linked in some way to farming as a way of life. My dad quipped one Sunday that he never needed to know how the crops were doing until he went to church, because he always found out during the prayers. We prayed for rain; we prayed for an end to rain, we prayed for a bountiful harvest, or we gave thanks for a bountiful harvest. The agricultural life always brings religion closest to magic. For supporting evidence read Malinowski on the Trobriand Islanders.

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