May 10, 2018
I have heard of Episcopal Churches, especially in rural areas doing processions around their boundaries. What is that all about?
The custom of processing around the boundaries has a name. It is the liturgical custom of Rogation Days, which are the three days of prayer and fasting just prior to Ascension Day.
So, let's ground these days on the calendar. Ascension Day is a Principal Feast of the Church, on par with The Feast of the Resurrection, The Feast of the Nativity, and the Feast of Pentecost. It would supersede a normal Sunday celebration if it could occur on a Sunday, but it cannot. Ascension Day is always 40 days after Easter, which means that it always fall on the Thursday between the sixth and seventh Sundays of Easter, and marks the day that Christ was taken into heaven in his resurrected body.
Traditionally, Rogation Days are days of fasting and prayer in which the Great Litany is sung or said in procession as an Act of Intercession.
The Great Litany was the subject of an Episco-fact in Lent of this year, and as is true for most of life in the church, there is overlap and interconnection. Although Easter is generally a fasting season, one in which our confessions are tempered as we live in the resurrection. As you may have noticed, we at St. Francis hold this Easter tradition by forgoing Confession from the Feast of the Resurrection to the Feast of Pentecost, which will occur next Sunday, May 20, this year. Even in a season of celebration, it still seems fitting that we remember our relationship to God (God is God, and we are not), and it reminds of the source of our joy in God's created goodness.
Begun in Venice and France in the fifth century, they were a prophylactic, intended to ward off a threatened disaster. In England they were more of a supplication, to bless the fields at plantings. It was the Vicar who beat the bounds as he traversed the fields of the Parish while reciting Psalms and the Litany. In the United States, Rogation days have been associated with rural life, agriculture, and fishing.
The BCP includes Propers for Rogation Days, pages 207-208, 258-259, and 930.
As the United States has become less rural and more urban/suburban, our concept of what Rogation Days are for is the blessing of what we do to sustain ourselves in all forms, including commerce and industry. The BCP Rogation Days also include our stewardship of creation.
One interesting local piece of governance for the parish is some neighbors have encroached our boundaries. We are happy to share, but do not want to cede our ownership privileges. According to Virginia Commonwealth law we send a letter every year notifying our neighbors of our property rights. I have wondered if we should not use a Rogation Day to beat our boundaries. It might be a wonderful Ecclesiastically appropriate moment.