Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Shout-out For Creation

At the church where I had services this morning, three of them to be exact,  I was asked to say a few words about "Rogation Sunday".

Strictly speaking, there is no liturgical term "Rogation Sunday", but the Book of Common Prayer does refer (p. 18) to "The Rogation Days, traditionally observed on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day...", which latter feast will be celebrated this coming Thursday, May 21.  Thomas Cranmer, therefore, probably won't be too put out if we think of today as "Rogation Sunday".

"Rogation" comes from the Latin verb rogare = to ask, beseech.  The common prayer on the Rogation Days was a responsorial psalm or prayer, a litany, calling on all the saints for all sorts of reasons.  Early on, processions with prayers -- a reaction to similar pagan practices -- became Church practice, especially in praying for the crops.  5th century Bishop Mamertus of Vienne inaugurated processional litanies on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day because of the earthquakes which his city experienced.  Similar "rogation" days spread to Gaul, England, and Italy.  During the papacy of Gregory the Great (6th-7th cent.) St. Mark's feast on April 25 was observed as the day of a "Major Litany", begun as a Christian substitute for the Roman pagan celebration of Robigalia, named for Robigo, protector of crops.  The Rogation Days, as we've come to know them, are largely of Gallic origin, referred to by some as the "Minor Litanies".

Earlier, in some places, it was custItalicomary to fast in preparation for the feast of the Ascension, and to have crops blessed then, since Ascension Day normally occurred in North America in the spring each year.  Another practice was the ceremony of the "beating of the bounds", in which a procession of parishioners, led by the priest, the church warden, and choirboys, would proceed around the boundary of their parish and pray for its protection in the forthcoming year.Since our culture has changed from an agrarian to an industrial, and now to a digital society, we have in the Church today a mere remnant of the Rogation Days as they were previously celebrated: in the Great Litany (BCP, pp. 148ff.) and in three Collects (pp. 258-259), one each "For fruitful seasons", "For commerce and industry", and "For stewardship of creation".

During my 13 years in Catholic seminary the Rogation Days were celebrated every year with the singing of the Litany and a good trek outside in the fresh morning (except if it was raining).  Having a visual experience not only of the seminary's crops, but of all God's creation: birds, sun, wind, etc., while shouting out to the Almighty, Te rogamus, audi nos (We beseech You, hear us), was very satisfying and memorable.  I'll also always remember standing on the porch one day at St. Augustine's House (still there) in Oxford, MI with my late dear friend and noted Lutheran ecumenical pioneer, Fr. Arthur Kreinheder, founder of the the Order of St. Augustine.  It was one of those quiet moments as we looked together out over the beautiful grounds, perhaps in the spring.  Fr. Arthur finally exclaimed: "God is so lavish!"

The reading from Ecclesiasticus in this morning's Office reminded me of all God's lavishness in creation, as it obviously occurred to the writer of Ecclesiasticus also: "...The sun when it appears, proclaims as it rises what a marvelous instrument it is, the work of the Most High.  At noon it parches the land, and who can withstand its burning heat?...Great is the Lord who made it; at his orders it hurries on its course.  It is the moon that marks the changing seasons, governing the times, their everlasting sign.  From the moon comes the sign for festal days, a light that wanes when it completes its course. The new moon, as its name suggests, renews itself...The glory of the stars is the beauty of heaven, a glittering array in the heights of the Lord...Look at the rainbow, and praise him who made it; it is exceedingly beautiful in its brightness. It encircles the sky with its glorious arc; the hands of the Most High have stretched it out.  We could say more but could never say enough; let the final word be: 'He is the all'..."

That we may always treasure Your stunning creation, Loving God, that we may exult in and enjoy it all our days, that we may tend it ever with reverence and great care...Te rogamus, audi nos!  


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