During Rogation Days last year, I joked with our priest about making the drive to our home to pray over and bless our little garden patch for the spring. Rogation Days seemed like a charming ritual, sweet and a little antiquated. After all, if our zucchinis failed, there was the farmer’s market, the grocery store, the bulk warehouse, all waiting to meet my needs. This year, all that has changed.
Rogation Days date back to the fifth century and are directly tied to agriculture, to people who are tied to the changing of the seasons and the unpredictability of nature. Tucked into the festal season of Eastertide, Rogation Days set apart a three-day period to focus especially on repentance and asking God to bless the coming year’s harvest as the planting season began. Priests would walk the boundaries of the parish, praying over crops, fields, livestock. Likewise, the people would take care to consider their frailty and sins. From the Latin rogatio, meaning “asking,” we beseech the Lord of the Harvest for a safe and bountiful harvest and for protection from famine and plague.
These last months have certainly marked a stark disruption to our routines, our thought and prayer lives, and our equilibrium. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, many of us have been faced with challenges completely new and, often, terrifying. Personally, this is the first time in my life that I can remember not having immediate access to all the items on my grocery list. Compared to the difficulties faced by some, it seems small and absurd, but I still remember the panic of going from store to store in my area, completely unable to buy yeast, a staple in my house since I bake bread many days. “How will I feed everyone?” became the question on my mind. As supply chains were disrupted, there have been more and more shortages. Like many, for the first time I experienced deep uncertainty, disorientation, and anxiety over simple supplies. Suddenly, asking my priest to bless my little garden patch doesn’t seem so silly after all. These days, I’m reminded frequently that my times are in God’s hands. Now that I’ve seen how easily my small world can be upended, I find myself responding with more dependent prayer and more gratitude for yeast and flour.
So what will I do this year on Rogation Days? Gathering is still a risky prospect, so I don’t expect that anyone will be lining up to process around our fields. Still, we can take this time as a family to fast and pray for a quick end to the COVID-19 crisis in all its horrors and complications. We can plant and pray over our garden, looking in hope to the harvest. Perhaps we’ll drive to grocery store parking lots and lift up prayers for the safety of the workers, for the safe delivery of food to the shelves, for the farms, factories, and processing plants that are struggling to stay safe while meeting our needs. We can most certainly walk our neighborhood and pray for our neighbors, for their safety and well-being.
Despite the heart-wrenching headlines, the air is warming. Plants of all types are growing. In the midst of despair, we are starting to put in our gardens, whether beautiful or useful, micro or massive. This year, more than any other year, the need for Rogation Days—for asking the blessing of the Lord on our simple necessities of health and sustenance, and asking for safety from pestilence for ourselves, our neighbors, and our world—has been brought home to me.