The Rev’d Richard J. Robÿn Trinity Church Oxford VI Easter—May 9, 2010 Rogation Sunday What is a rogation day? I was once under the erroneous assumption that it had something to do with crops and agriculture. Crop blessings are a part of the picture, but not all of it. I figured that the word “rogation” had some Latin origin meaning to grow. After all, isn’t that that Rogaine is for? Whoever named that wonder drug had a sense of humor, because there is a Latin root to the word, but it has nothing to do with growth. Instead, it has everything to do with asking—with supplication. Please, Lord, please…let it grow back! Rogation days are, in the calendar of the Western Church, four days traditionally set apart for solemn processions to invoke God's mercy. They are April 25, the Major Rogation, coinciding with St. Mark's Day (but having no connection with it); and the three days preceding Ascension Day, the Minor Rogations. Major Rogation The first Rogation, the Greater Litanies, has been compared to the ancient Roman religious festival of the Robigalia, a ritual involving prayer and sacrifice for crops held on April 25. The first Rogation is also observed on April 25, and a direct connection has sometimes been asserted, with the "Christian substitute" following the same processional route in Rome. If Easter falls on this day, the latest possible date for Easter, the Rogations are transferred to Tuesday, April 27. Minor Rogations The second set of Rogation days, the Lesser Litanies or Rogations, introduced about AD 470 by Bishop Mamertus of Vienne and eventually adopted elsewhere, are the three days (Rogation Monday, Rogation Tuesday and Rogation Wednesday) immediately before Ascension Thursday in the Christian liturgical calendar. The term, most frequently encountered in Roman Catholic and Anglican circles, is, unfortunately, rarely used today.
The word "Rogation" comes from the Latin verb rogare, meaning "to ask," and was applied to this time of the liturgical year because the Gospel reading for this Sunday in the old lectionary included the passage "Ask and ye shall receive" (Gospel of John 16:24). Therefore, the Sunday itself was often called Rogation Sunday, and marked the start of a three-week period (ending on Trinity Sunday), when Roman Catholic and Anglican clergy did not solemnize marriages (two other such periods of marital prohibition also exist, one beginning on the first Sunday in Advent and continuing through the Octave of Epiphany, or 13 January, and the other running from Septuagesima until the Octave of Easter, the Sunday after Easter). The faithful typically observed the Rogation days by fasting in preparation to celebrate the Ascension, and farmers often had their crops blessed by a priest at this time, which always occurs during the spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Violet vestments are worn at the rogation litany and its associated Mass, regardless of what color was worn at the ordinary liturgies of the day. A common feature of Rogation days in former times was the ceremony of "beating the bounds", in which a procession of parishioners, led by the minister, churchwardens, and choirboys, would proceed around the boundary of their parish and pray for its protection in the forthcoming year. This procession is not simply around the church itself, but, quite literally, around the “parish” bounds. That is to say, around the entire neighborhood in which a parish is located. It is an all-day event, accompanied by much merriment as the procession makes its way through the area. The Roman Catholic calendar reforms of 1969 officially eliminated the Rogation days from the church calendar, and the Sunday preceding Ascension Thursday is now known simply as the Sixth Sunday of Easter. This observance in the Catholic Church has revived since 1988 (when Pope John Paul II issued his decree Ecclesia Dei Adflicta) and especially since 2007 (when Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio called Summorum Pontificum) when use of such older rites has again been permitted and encouraged. Churches of the Anglican Communion reformed their liturgical calendar in 1976, but
continue to recognize the three days before Ascension as an optional observance. So, Rogation Sunday remains associated with the blessing of agricultural pursuits, and we will bless our modest vegetable garden later, but we must remember the origin of all of this. Jesus said, “Ask and ye shall receive.” Asking for help is sometimes one of the most difficult things we can do. It is difficult because it means admitting that we are not in total control, and that we do not have all of the answers. It is a hard thing to do, but it is a holy thing to do. It is holy because in doing so we let go of our pride and become like little children. We recapture some of the innocence we were born with, and which life in this world robs us of. We realize, in asking for help, that we cannot do it alone. The saying is now trite, but it remains true nonetheless, “It takes a village.” And here at Trinity Church Oxford, we are a village. We have our elders and sages; we have our newcomers; and we have our children. We all need one another and God; and the fact that we are all here week to week shows that we know this to be true. We come here and are fed, nurtured and educated and go out into the world, commissioned by Christ, to spread his light and his Gospel message. As a village we are strong—but as a village we also need to acknowledge our limitations. Our world, the context, if you will, in which our little village exists, is changing. It has been changing since it was first settled in the 17th century. We know that we are an important part of the context of this neighborhood. We also know that we have not necessarily been the best at communicating that fact to others who exist in this context. We want to change that, and we want to open up our hearts and our cherished parish to others who have not had the privilege of being a part of this worshipping community. Our hearts are so full that we can do no less. But, how do we do it? That is the million-dollar question. What is our passion? What is the “hook,” if you will, that will attract newcomers to this wonderful place? And what do we do once they come? These are extremely important questions we must ask ourselves over the summer as we begin our journey of “Rogation,” of asking. Ask yourself, ask the person next to you,
ask the person you haven’t seen in a few months. Pick up the phone. Reach out. The future of this parish depends on you. Past generations have been extremely generous, and their faithfulness has resulted in a firm financial foundation—much firmer than any other parishes in our area. But that firm foundation is just that—our foundation. It is not the walls, the roof, the people. We are that. If we continue with the mentality of relying on the generosity of the dead, we will soon join them. Jesus said, let the dead bury the dead. YOU inhabit the land of the living. It is up to YOU to regenerate and reinvigorate this parish. I am realizing more and more what an incredible gift it is for me to be here among you and to take my place in the long line of rectors of this parish. I hope—I pray that a priest in 2210 can stand here and say the same thing to his or her congregation. To be sure, the Church and the world of that time will be entirely foreign to us, just as our time would be entirely foreign to those in 1810. Could they have imagined—women serving at the altar, a woman rector? And certainly someone of my orientation would have been so far from the scope of possibility as not to be even imagined. The wheels of holy mother Church turn slowly, but they do turn. And like anything alive, if it does not grow and change it will die. That is not to say that we throw away our past. I am deeply devoted to the traditions of the Western Church, as you know. But in cherishing traditions, we must keep an eye to the future. We must go, Like St. Paul, to people who have not heard the Good News. I was raised up as a child at the very end of what we would call Christendom. It no longer exists. One can no longer assume that the person on the street knows even the Lord’s Prayer by heart. There is a huge hole in our society today where once there was God. We are a minority, and we need to acknowledge that and work from that perspective. We are no longer the normative model in our culture. We are living in a time that resembles much more the time of St. Paul. We are called to find the Lydias in our community, to preach, to reach out, to baptize, and to grow the Church of God. Rogation Sunday is all about asking. Though we have the history and the 300-year-old building to prove it, we still don’t have all of the answers. We must humble ourselves and seek the answers. We must admit when we get it
wrong, and celebrate when we get it right, and above all, we must remember to keep God at the center of everything we do. Ask yourselves, ask your neighbors, ask someone you wouldn’t normally talk to—what is God calling us to be at Trinity Church Oxford? And then share what you have heard. This treasure is ours for only a short while, but while we are here, we owe it to those who have gone before, and to those who will come after us, to be the best stewards of God’s property that we can be. Let us pray that future generations will look back upon us and say, “Surely the spirit of God was with them.”
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