Rogation Days

From Latin rogare, meaning, “to ask.” Color is violet (penitential). Immediately follow Rogate Sunday (John 16:23,24 – In that day you will ask nothing of Me. Truly, truly I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.), though the Sunday itself is not penitential and, like the rest of Eastertide, the color is white.

5-25-22-Service-of-Rogation

History to the Reformation

Tied in with early use of litanies in the western church.[i]

Major rogation

Major rogation (25 April): established in 4th century, possibly by Pope Liberius (310-366), possibly to replace the pagan Roman Robigalia, a day of supplication to the god Robigus, “Mildew,” or the goddess Robigo, “Rust,” to keep mildew off the crops.[ii] (Note that this is unrelated to the Feast of St. Mark, which was not introduced until around 1200.[iii])

Minor rogation (Rogation Days)

Minor rogation (the three days before the Feast of the Ascension, also known as Cross Week or Prayer Week): fasts and special intercessory processions introduced by Mamertus (died c. 475), Bishop of Vienne, Gaul (now France) in 469, in response to earthquakes and poor harvests that had ravaged the area. In 511, at the Council of Orleans, the observance was extended to all of Gaul, in 813 to Germany, and in 816 to Rome, introduced by Pope Leo III (750-816).[iv] Of note it appears that about a century prior to Mamertus, the Church in Milan held a preparatory fast prior to the feast of the Ascension, and it is thus possible that he simply added litanies to an ongoing observance.[v]

As the practice of the Rogation Days initially spread, there was variation in the specific days chosen for the observance: some observed on the three days before Ascension, some the days following Exaudi Sunday in the run-up to the Feast of the Pentecost, while others observed on the days immediately following Pentecost. The Church in Rome was initially reticent to introduce the Rogation Days, not wanting to introduce a time of fasting into the joyous Eastertide season. Pope Leo finally agreed to a compromise in that the penitential days were approved, but without the fasting. Initially the Pope had intended the observance as a one-off but gradually it became established as an annual observance in Rome, and throughout the western Church, on the three days before Ascension.[vi]

From early on, the focus has been on asking God’s blessing on the fruits of the earth and the sea (in coastal communities), as well as prayers for His aid against enemies or impending calamity.  The French priest and Benedictine monk Dom Gueranger (1805-1875) described the initial processional practices in Gaul.  The participants first received ashes on their foreheads, as we do on Ash Wednesday.  They then were sprinkled with, “holy water,” (water blessed by a clergyman), after which the procession began. The people walked barefoot from church to church, singing the litany, psalms and antiphons. They entered each of the churches along the way, singing an antiphon or responsory in each.  Finally, they would reach the “principal church” where the procession concluded with a Mass. The group were led with the processional Cross from the church where the mass was to be held.  The processions lasted as long as 6 hours.[vii]

By mediaeval times, the processions had become quite elaborate, and included the invocation of saints and the veneration of relics. Oderico (?-?), Canon of the cathedral of Siena, Italy, wrote in 1213, describing the Rogation Days processions there:

“The Church celebrates the Litanies with devotion in these three days, with (processional) crosses, banners, and relics She goes from church to church, humbly praying the Saints that they may intercede with God for our excesses, ‘that we may obtain by their intercession what we cannot obtain by our own merits.’

It is the custom of certain churches also to carry a dragon on the first two days before the Cross and banner, with a long, inflated tail, but on the third day, (it goes) behind the Cross and banners, with its tail down. This is the devil, who in three periods, before the Law, under the Law, and under grace, deceives us, or wishes to do so. In the first two (periods) he was, as it were, the lord of the world; therefore, he is called the Prince or God of this world, and for this reason, in the first day, he goes with his tail inflated. In the time of grace, however, he was conquered by Christ, nor dares he to reign openly, but seduces men in a hidden way; this is the reason why on the last day he follows with his tail down.”[viii]

The following hymn from Halberstadt, Germany, dating to around 1500, is typical of what participants sang on Rogation Days processions:

Holy Mary, stay with us,
and do not let us perish.
Free us from all sins.
And if we should die,
defend us from the devil;
help us, chaste Virgin Mary
to join the lovely angel host.

So we will sing alleluia,
alleluia we shall sing
in praise of the Almighty God.
Grant to us, Lord, as our reward
the heavenly crown.
Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy!
All praise to you, Mary.[ix]

While this version is addressed to Mary, other saints were substituted as the hymn was repeated during the processions.

The Rogation Days processions typically began after the office of None (3PM), and when it was not possible to go from church to church, typically went around a single church.[x] The Roman Catholic Church granted indulgences of hundreds of days to participants. Furthermore, many among the laity believed the processions to be miracle-working, especially when they were connected to the veneration of relics.[xi] In England, the processions were often used to, “beat the bounds,” an annual marking of the boundaries of the parish, asking God’s forgiveness of sins, His protection from evil, and His blessings on the fruit of their labor.[xii]

Reformation and Lutheran practice

By the time of the Reformation, it was clear that, along with much of the practice of the church at the time, the Rogation Days observances needed reform, namely, to be brought back in line with God’s Word.  In addition to the theological abuses noted above (invocation of saints, veneration of relics), many used the processions as an opportunity to be noticed and have parties. As Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546) noted in his 1519 sermon On Rogationtide Prayer and Procession,

“Unfortunately, the processions have been scandalously misused. People want only to see and to be seen in them. They indulge in inane babble and hilarity, to say nothing of even worse conduct and sin. The village processions have become especially disgraceful. These people give themselves to carousing in the taverns. They handle the processional crosses and banners in such a manner that it would not be surprising if God would let us all perish in one year. Things have come to pass that there is more valid reason today for entirely abolishing all processions and also the holy days than there ever was for instituting them.”[xiii]

Dr. Luther used his sermon On Rogationtide as a reminder to his hearers how to pray. His main points are as follows:[xiv]

  1. We must have a promise and pledge from God. We must reflect on this pledge and remind God of it, and remember that everything we obtain from Him is solely by reason of His boundless mercy (Ephesians 3:20). We should pray with confidence.
  2. We must never doubt the promise of the true and faithful God (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24; Luke 11:9-13).
  3. If a person doubts God while praying, or prays without caring whether or not the prayer is fulfilled, he prays in vain (James 1:6-8), and also considers God to be a liar, unwilling to keep His promises.
  4. Prayer is based not on our worthiness but wholly on God’s true and certain promise (Psalm 25:10, 85:10).
  5. Entrust the goal, time and place to God’s will, wisdom and omnipotence (Exodus 14; Ephesians 3:20)[xv]
  6. Rogation litany and prayer must be in accord with God’s Name and should petition God in true and sincere faith, reminding Him of His divine and merciful promise.  Thus, at processions and litanies, one should conduct himself properly.
  7. During the Rogation Days, we are to pray that God protect the crops in the fields and cleanse the air, that they may be a blessing to us and to our health, and not be a source of plague (1 Timothy 4:4-5).  For this reason, the Gospels should be read in the fields and in the open, that the devil be weakened.  We should take these processions and God’s Word seriously, devoutly and with honor, listening and firmly believing in its power over the devil (Ephesians 6:10-20).
  8. We should also ask God to bless the animals for us, for the benefit of our bodies, but even more for the benefit of our souls, keeping us from being overfilled, gluttonous and idle.

Like other church practices, the Lutheran Church has retained that which is salutary in the Rogation Days observances, and reformed that which was not.  One example of this is the hymn Triune God, Be Thou Our Stay (LSB 505), which is a revision, first published in 1524, by Dr. Luther of the saints-invoking processional hymn noted above.[xvi]  The Rogation Days liturgy observed in the Lutheran Cathedral of Havelberg (Germany) in around 1589 (nine years following the publication of the Book of Concord), survives to this day and is very similar to the CLC outdoor services of prayer and repentance.[xvii]

In his 1963 book on the ceremonial aspects of the Lutheran Liturgy, Rev. Paul H. D. Lang (1902-1981) suggested continuing the Rogation Days observance by chanting the Litany in procession and end with Psalm 70 and “appropriate prayers” for God’s blessings on the fruits of the earth.[xviii] The Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries have posted the Litany, historic prayers, propers and readings for use in church or at home during the Rogation Days.[xix]

Our CLC Rogation Liturgy

Our Rogation liturgy follows the historic Church practice.  Note again that while the overall pattern has remained consistent over the past 1500-plus years, the specifics have always reflected local realities and needs.  Since our local congregations are spread far apart, we begin in the Nave, process outdoors around the church, and conclude with the Mass (Divine Service) back indoors.  While historically, congregations have held Rogation liturgies from Monday through Wednesday of Rogate week, as we are introducing this liturgy this year (AD 2022) for the first time, we will be holding our liturgy on Wednesday, the midweek day on which we regularly gather to receive God’s gifts in His Divine Service to us.

Confession and Absolution

As noted in Pastor’s explanation of The Festival Service liturgy (which we will experience again at tomorrow evening’s Feast of the Ascension service), until the eighteenth century AD, the use of Private Confession and Absolution was the norm in the congregation.  With that no longer being the case, we have added the rite of Corporate Confession and Absolution at the beginning of the service.  We further ask for deliverance from sin during the Litany and our processional hymn.

Rogation Antiphon and Litany

Our Rogation Antiphon (Psalm 44:26,1) is that which has been used historically by the Church to open the Rogation liturgy.  Often referred to by its Latin opening, Exsurge, Domine (“Arise, O Lord”), the Antiphon lays out the Rogation theme of prayer for God’s help, reminding Him of His grace and mercy on His people in the past, and of His firm promise of His grace and mercy on us.[xx] We immediately follow the Antiphon with the Litany, as the Church has done through the centuries.

Rogation Procession

Following the Litany, we begin our outdoor procession.  We pause at four stations, at which we will pray respectively for the Church, for Daily Bread, for Life and for the Civil Realm.  At each of these stations, we follow the historic practice of praying a relevant Psalm (or portion thereof) and a historic Collect.  We conclude with a verse from the Psalm.  As we process, we sing the stanzas of Triune God, Be Thou Our Stay (LSB 505).

Church:  In Psalm 107, we thank God for His chessed, or His steadfast love, in having redeemed us and gathered us in from near and far, into His Church, in which, “He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things” (v.9).  Our Collect for the Church is taken from Dr. Luther’s translation of the Proper Collect for the Feast of the Holy Trinity, and in old hymnals is tied to our processional hymn.[xxi] In this Collect, we pray that God keep us, and our sister congregations, firm in the One True Faith, and well equipped to resist attacks from the evil one. 

Daily Bread: In Psalm 65, we praise God for atoning for our sins, for calling and gathering us into His Church, and for providing for all of our physical needs. In our Collect, taken from a ~1589 Rogation procession liturgy at the Lutheran Cathedral of Havelberg, Germany,[xxii] we confidently pray that God would grant us our seasonable monsoon rain to support our physical needs, that we may confidently desire eternal life in Him.

Life: We live in a society which has abandoned the concept that every human life is important to God, who sent His Son to die to atone for the sins of all, and to rise again to declare them right with the Father (Romans 4:25).  Furthermore, we live in a society that no longer respects (and actually persecutes) the Biblical concept of marriage as an earthly illustration of Jesus’ love for His Church (Ephesians 5:22-33), and through which God creates and nurtures new human life (Genesis 1:28, 9:1).  Thus, the concept of the sanctity of marriage is central to that of the sanctity of life. As we pray Psalm 103, we are vividly reminded of how important every person is to Him!  Our Collect is the final Collect from Dr. Luther’s 1529 Order of Marriage.[xxiii] In it we pray that God preserve His estate of marriage against all who would attack and destroy it.  Note that the word, “sacramental,” does not refer to marriage as a sacrament (it is not), but is derived from the Vulgate (Latin) text of Ephesians 5:32, where it is used to translate the Greek mysterion (mystery).

Civil Realm:  We pray for those in government, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2, quote from v.2).  As we pray Psalm 5, we are reminded that God does not delight in wickedness, and protects us from our enemies.  In our Collect, taken from the 1941 The Lutheran Hymnal,[xxiv] we pray for our civil authorities, that God enlighten and defend them that they govern peaceably and according to His law, that we may live faithful and quiet lives. 

Mass (Divine Service)

Following the Rogation Procession, we return to the Nave for the Mass (Divine Service). The historic Propers (Psalm, Collect and Pericopes [cuttings from Scripture]) for the service differ from those of the preceding Rogate (“ask”) Sunday, but continue to expound on the theme.[xxv] Two items of note: the historic Introit is taken from Psalm 18:6b, 1-2.  With this being the year of the Psalm at Catalina Lutheran Church, we opted to use Psalm 18:1-6, which contains the Introit.  Additionally, while the historic Propers do not include an Old Testament pericope, we chose to include 1 Kings 18:1-46, to which the historic Epistle text refers.  Our hymns (LSB 779, 773) support the Pericopes and the overall Rogation theme.


[i] See Vicar Steffensen’s notes on The Litany at https://catalinalutheran.org/blog/category/worship/liturgy/ (accessed 13 May, AD 2022)

[ii] Adolf Adam (Matthew J O’Connell, trans.), The Liturgical Year (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1990) p. 191; Luther D. Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1947) p. 625

[iii] Reed, p. 557

[iv] Information from Adam, p. 191; Reed, pp. 625-626; Martin H. Bertram, Introduction to On Rogationtide Prayer and Procession, AE 42:85; Francis Weiser, Catholic Activity: Explanation and Origin of Rogation Days, at https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=1307 (accessed 29 March, AD 2022)

[v] Thomas J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991) p. 69

[vi] Weiser, ibid.

[vii] See Dom Gueranger, Rogation days, at https://www.reginamag.com/the-rogation-days/ (accessed 31 March, AD 2022)

[viii] In Gregory Dipippo, How Medieval Christians Celebrated the Rogation Days (With a Dragon), at https://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2016/05/how-medieval-christians-celebrated.html#.YkNBhC1h2qC (accessed 29 March, AD 2022), emphasis from Dipippo

[ix] Quoted in Victor E. Gebauer, “Triune God, be Thou our stay” in Joseph Herl, Peter C. Reske, Jon D. Vieker, eds. Lutheran Service Book, Companion to the Hymns, Volume 1 (St. Louis: CPH, 2019) p. 441

[x] Adrian Fortescue, The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described (London: Burns Oates and Washbourne Ltd., 1920) pp. 346-350; digitized at https://rosariumparabellum.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/ceremonies-of-the-roman-rite-described.pdf (accessed 31 March, AD 2022). The historic Catholic Rogation Days liturgy, along with the propers and readings, may be found at https://media.musicasacra.com/sjfm/Eastertide/Easter-Rogations.pdf (accessed 1 April, AD 2022).

[xi] Reed, p.626

[xii] See Anna Ervine, Beating the Bounds: A Parish Tradition, at https://wshc.org.uk/blog/item/beating-the-bounds-a-parish-tradition.html (accessed 29 March, AD 2022). Of note, the older members of the parish used the occasion to pass on knowledge of the boundaries to the youth; the boys carried birch or willow twigs to beat various landmarks, and usually would have their heads bumped on these markers, all so that they would retain the knowledge of these boundaries! Additionally, under the English Poor Laws, which were in force from 1598-1834, care for the poor was assigned to the parishes, and the annual Rogation processions reminded individuals where they might apply for assistance. See Beating the Bounds, at https://www.bnc.ox.ac.uk/about-brasenose/history/215-brasenose-traditions-and-legends/416-beating-the-bounds (accessed 29 March, AD 2022).

[xiii] AE 42:90

[xiv] AE 42:87-93

[xv] Dr. Luther also refers to the 8th chapter of the Apocryphal book of Judith, which is instructive.  Here, vv 11b-17 from Edward A. Engelbrecht, Gen. Ed., The Apocrypha, The Lutheran Edition With Notes (St. Louis: CPH, 2012), pp. 16-17: “Listen to me, rulers of the people of Bethulia! What you have said to the people today is not right; you have even sworn and pronounced this oath between God and you, promising to surrender the city to our enemies unless the Lord turns and helps us within so many days.  Who are you, to have put God to the test this day and setting yourselves up in the place of God among the sons of men?  You are questioning the Lord Almighty – but you will never know anything!  You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or find out what a man is thinking; how do you expect to search out God, who made all these things, and find out his mind or comprehend his thought? No, my brothers, do not provoke the Lord our God to anger. For if he does not choose to help us within these five days, he has power to protect us within any time he pleases, or even to destroy us in the presence of our enemies. Do not try to bind the purposes of the Lord our God; for God is not like man, to be threatened, or like a human being, to be won over by pleading. Therefore, while we wait for his deliverance, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our voice, if it pleases him.”

[xvi] Note in the longer version of the hymn, Dr. Luther opens each stanza with a Person of the Holy Trinity, rather than a saint.  From very early on, the hymn was designated for the Feast of the Holy Trinity.  See the Gebauer article in Companion, Volume 1, pp. 441-443, as well as the notes on the hymn at https://catalinalutheran.org/blog/category/worship/sunday-hymn-study/ (accessed 1 April, AD 2022).

[xvii] The English translations of the Havelberg Rogation days liturgies may be accessed in the post Rogation Days, at http://www.logoslutheran.org/rogationtide (accessed 1 April, AD 2022).

[xviii] Paul H D Lang, Ceremony and Celebration (Ft. Wayne: Emmanuel Press, 2012), p. 176.

[xix] See http://www.logoslutheran.org/rogationtide (accessed 1 April, AD 2022).

[xx] The Exsurge, Domine verse in the 1520 Papal Bull against Dr. Luther is Psalm 74:22.

[xxi] AE 53:136

[xxii] From the Rogation Days reference in n.17; the specific link to this is https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55f39c25e4b04150216b2b63/t/5924a5f5ab48de109c50ea26/1495574006761/TLH_suppl_RogateMonday.pdf (accessed 13 May, AD 2022)

[xxiii] AE 53:110-115, 145

[xxiv] TLH, Collect 25, p.104, alt. (Commonwealth ➜ State; ministers ➜ servants)

[xxv] The Propers in our service are the principal Rogation Days Propers.  In congregations which hold processions on all three days, these Propers are used on Rogation Monday and Tuesday, with distinct Propers for Rogate Wednesday, see, from the Rogation Days reference in n.17, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55f39c25e4b04150216b2b63/t/592588789de4bbb8164fb175/1495631992603/TLH_suppl_RogateWednesday.pdf (accessed 13 May, AD 2022)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: