A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
Today, the Sunday before the Ascension, is kept as Rogation Sunday, although in the Church Calendar, the following days Mon, Tues and Wednes are the three nominated Rogation days, to be observed as days of fasting and abstinence.
Rogation, Lammas, Harvest – days which are probably better known in practice, to our country brothers and sisters, in comparison to we townsfolk who recognise the words but the actual practice is not part of our culture so to speak.
So what are we doing in devoting our thoughts and prayers today, to the well being, growth and production of crops to feed us and sustain us during the winter that lies ahead.
The word Rogation comes from the Latin word Rogare, meaning to pray, and in pre Christian times, the Greeks and the Romans prayed at this time of the year to their gods, their idols, and asked for their blessing on the newly planted crops, that they might bear a good harvest.
As with many traditions that we observe nowadays, the advent and spread of Christianity sought to capture what in effect was a pagan yet worthwhile practice and to Christianise it, to make it something that expressed the Christians thanksgiving and petition to the one true God. We know for certain that as early as the 700s Rogationtide was celebrated by the Saxon Church in England with a certain amount of ritual and celebration. One of the intercessions used at this time of the year was the Litany, a responsive prayer – in Latin in the medieval ages, but later re-composed by Thomas Cranmer in 1544, borrowing from Latin and German Lutheran examples. In fact the Litany was the very first component of Cranmer’s First Book of Common Prayer of 1549.
Up to the time of the Reformation, a tradition had been followed of processing through the parish asking God’s blessing on the crops that were sprouting from the soil. The prayers used on these occasions was the Litany , at the end of which the parishioners returned to Church to celebrate the Mass. If weather was inclement, a procession inside the church was made instead, leading into Mass on Sundays.
All this was of course suppressed at the Reformation, but under Elizabeth I it was restored to some extent with a watered down procession around the parish boundary which became known as ‘beating the bounds’ – still carried out in some rural communities even today.
In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer the Litany is ordered to be said after Morning Prayer on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays and at other times commanded by the Bishop.
Today, where the Litany is said, it is usually to be found as part of the main Sunday Service.
Our new Order of Liturgy, Common Worship, makes provision for Rogationtide as an opportunity to pray for the world of work and accountable stewardship, and to offer prayers for all local communities whether rural or urban.
In recent years, as well as Harvest, we have celebrated Lammas , and this year, having spent our Lent study group looking at the Book of Common Prayer I thought we could well revive the practice of celebrating Rogationtide with our procession inside the church, reciting the Litany as did our ancestors in faith, praying for all sorts and conditions of men and women each in their several callings.
The Litany we use this morning is that provided in our modern Liturgy – Common Worship – in our celebration and thanksgiving later in the year for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, we will use the Litany from the Book of Common Prayer.
The most familiar prayer to all Christians of course, is the one Jesus taught his disciples, – the Lord’s Prayer and within it, the petition Give us this day our daily bread reminds us of God’s never relenting promise in providing for all our needs. The use of the Litany at Rogationtide is an extension of that prayer, seeking God’s blessing on all and everything and everyone involved in providing for our sustenance and well being.
God loves us because he is good and our very existence is a sign of God’s love. All we have to do is to receive it and then share it with others. Christ Jesus showed his love for us by dying for us , an experience which few of us will encounter, but all of us have the capacity for love. How we share that love with others depends on the needs and opportunities that come our way, but one opportunity that is common to all of us is prayer- spending time in communion with God and offering to him in love, the needs of those who are our neighbours.
As we start Christian Aid Week, it is right and proper that we show our love for our fellow men and women and children throughout the world by using the Litany to ask God’s blessing on all who are involved in providing for our daily spiritual and bodily needs.
Jesus said, You did not choose me, I chose you, and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
Let us pray.
Let the people praise you O God, let all the people praise you.Then shall the earth bring forth her increase and God, our own God will bless us. The Lord will indeed give all that is good, and our land will yield its increase.