When I didn’t think the Church could possibly get any weirder, someone sent me a link the other day of a video of a Catholic priest invoking God’s mercy on the current drought in rural France, a ritual first celebrated in 511CE. It’s Rogation Sunday shortly – one of four, apparently. The word “Rogation” comes from the Latin rogare, meaning “to ask,” and was applied to this time of the liturgical year because the Gospel reading for the previous Sunday included the passage “Ask and ye shall receive” (John 16:24). God obviously has the ‘out to lunch’ sign up the rest of the time. More probably, the liturgy was bent to fit the season since its likely derivation is from the Roman Robigalia which has exactly the same function, namely a pagan ritual involving prayer and sacrifice for a good crop and ‘protection from mildew and rust’ . Sunday marks the start of a three-week period (ending on Trinity Sunday), during which clergy – can’t imagine why – didn’t let people get married. In England, Rogation Sunday is sometimes called Chestnut Sunday for reasons unspecified. No doubt TBP could tell me.
The faithful typically observed Rogation days by fasting in preparation to celebrate the Ascension, and farmers often had their crops blessed by a priest at this time, Violet vestments – rather jolly, don’t you think – are worn at the rogation litany and its associated Mass, regardless of what colour was worn at the ordinary liturgies of the day. A common feature in former times was the ceremony of “beating the bounds”, in which a procession of parishioners, led by the minister, churchwarden, and choirboys, would proceed around the boundary of their parish, marking territory by peeing in the corners perhaps, and pray for its protection in the forthcoming year. Let’s all march down the middle of the 30 – rush hour might be best – all we have to do is find an expendable choirboy or two and a couple of churchwardens. It was also known as ‘Gang-Day’, a precursor of ‘March for Jesus’, perhaps. In ancient times, it was followed by an alefest, thus guaranteeing participation. In Henry VIII’s reign the occasion had become an excuse for so much revelry that it attracted the condemnation of a preacher who declared “these solemne and accustomable processions and supplications be nowe growen into a right foule and detestable abuse.” Ratso Joe it seems is quietly encouraging the revival of – er – ‘older rites’. Not surprising as the former head of the Inquisition. How about a good witch-burning?
Before the howls of protest, perhaps it’s just me getting older and less tolerant of (from my humble point of view) complete claptrap. Yes, it can be argued that some people need this kind of focus, but a solid encounter with a mighty, glorious, life-changing Ruach HaKodesh might put a stop to much of the play-acting.