By Alexandra Greeley/National Catholic Register
Among the less familiar springtime Catholic traditions are the four Rogation Days. These are marked on the calendar as April 25, the major day — also St. Mark’s feast day — and the three minor days prior to the Solemnity of the Ascension. The Archdiocese of Denver celebrates a special day of prayer for the Harvest and Fruits of the Earth each year on the feast of St. Isidore, May 15.
What does the word “rogation” mean? “Rogation comes from the Latin, rogare, to ask [for God’s blessings]. These are certain days set aside by the Church to ask God for the needs of all people, especially for the productivity of the earth and human labor and to also give public thanksgiving to God,” explained Jennifer Gregory Miller at Catholic Culture. “The farmer’s calling is a sacred calling.”
According to Catholic teachings, Rogation Days were created to “appease God’s anger at man’s transgressions” and for bountiful harvests. Their history traces back many centuries, as noted by Catholic Answers, and began perhaps as early as the sixth century A.D., when St. Gregory the Great legalized the major day to counteract the ancient heathen practices of Robigalia, of holding processions and prayers to their gods. St. Mamertus, bishop of Vienne, introduced the minor days, probably around A.D. 470. For the following centuries, Catholics marked Rogation Days by reciting the Litany of the Saints and walking the boundaries of their parish to bless it. Then the procession ended with a “Rogation Mass.”
But Rogation Days today are truly unfamiliar to many. As Elaine Boland, a farmer at Fields of Athenry Farm in Middleburg, Virginia, and a lifelong Catholic, said, “I never knew about this tradition until you asked me to comment on this Catholic farming practice of prayer and fasting,” she said.
“I was fascinated while reading about it, and I was remiss in realizing how many communal traditions like this have been lost in our modern-day society. … Now, more than ever, with all the crazy in our world, by our asking for God’s forgiveness of our craziness and to bless our yields in crops and livestock to provide us with abundant foods, so we may not want of hunger, it is high time for all of us to kneel in prayer and fasting and to pray the Rosary, begging for his merciful love and protection — and to acknowledge him as our ancestors did.”
In contrast, Catholic rancher Mike Callicrate, the founder of Ranch Foods Direct, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, knows this celebration well. “Rogation Days, in the Roman Catholic Church, devoted to special prayers for crops, has rarely been more in the minds of farmers and knowledgeable eaters than this year,” he said.
“While weather, from drought to floods, continues to pose major problems, it is only one of the many challenges in growing, producing and distributing food. This year we call on the Lord to bless our farmers with abundant crops, but also to bless the farmers and people of Ukraine: May there be peace in this land of tillers and fertile soil, vital to our very existence on Earth. May the husbandman once again be the first partaker of the fruits.”
In 1969, Rogation Days were eliminated from the liturgical calendar when it was revised, but several years later, Pope John Paul II permitted, but not mandated, parishes to observe Rogation Days. Although few parishes today celebrate Rogation Days, Catholics should understand that these celebrations can keep people in touch with nature and its changing seasons. They can celebrate these days on their own by reciting the litany and walking part or all of the boundary around their church and then attend a daily Mass and pray for farmers and a bountiful harvest.
Jesse Straight, a Catholic farmer who owns and farms on Whiffletree Farm in Warrenton, Virginia, has embraced the joys of Rogation Days.
As he told the Register in an email, “I began my farming career with a rainy Rogation procession in 2007 through a freshly tilled up empty city lot in Charlottesville, Virginia. My wife and I were surrounded by a group of dear friends and our kind and earnest Episcopalian priest. Since then, my wife and I have moved from veggies to animal farming, and became Catholic, and have had eight children, and moved back to my hometown of Warrenton, Virginia.
“And I just emailed our beloved priests to see if they might do us the favor of leading us, my wife and eight kids, and whole farm team, and our interested Catholic customers, on our Rogation procession and Mass of 2022. God has brought us down a happy road to our home in his Catholic Church, and home in my hometown, and our home full of children, and our home on this farm. May he continue to bless us and those we serve.”
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the National Catholic Register on April 25, 2022.