The Holidays Celebrated In Colonial America

Rogation Week

{ The week including the three Rogation Days preceding Ascension Thursday }

  The word Rogation comes from the Latin word, rogare, and means: to ask or pray. Rogation Week closes the Easter season, with the Sunday starting the week being the fifth Sunday after Easter. The first three weekdays are known as the Rogation Days, during which church members would sing litanies of supplication requesting God's help in their lives.

  The singing of litanies and rogations to ask God for his kindness were noted as early as 550 AD.

  St. Mark's Day, or April 25, was considered the Major Rogation. The early leaders of the Christian Church, in their effort to superimpose Christian holidays over pagan festivals, placed the Major Rogation Day on the day previously celebrated as the pagan festival of Robigalia. The festival of Robigalia was one in which farmers prayed to their god, Robigus, for assistance with their crops, as they began their planting. The three days before Ascension Day were known as the Minor Rogations.

  The "new" Christian festival was celebrated by the people accompanying their clergy to the fields, where litanies were said, imploring God to avert the evils of plague and pestilence, and instead that he would send good weather their way.

  Richard Bankes published Episteles and Gospelles, in which he noted: Good people, this weeke is called the Rogation Weke, bycause in this weke we be wonte to make solempne and generall supplications, or prayers, which be also called Lytanyes.

  Taking their cue from the Gospel of John, Chapter 16, Verse 24, the Church leaders used the Rogation Days to emphasize the doctrine of "Ask and ye shall receive". Bankes, in his Episteles and Gospelles, stated: In these Rogation Days, if it is to be asked of God, and prayed for, that God of his goodnes wyll defende and save the corne in the felde, and that he wyll vouchsave to pourge the ayer, for this cause be certaine Gospels red in the wyde felde amonges the corne and grasse, that by the vertue and operation of God's word, the power of the wicked spirites, which keepe in the air and infecte the same (whence come pestilences and the other kyndes of diseases and syknesses), may be layde downe, and the aier made pure and cleane to th' intent the corne may remaine unharmed, and not infected of the sayd hurteful spirites, but serve us for our use and bodely sustenance.

  The Rogation Week was sometimes variously called the Cross-Week after the fact that the clergy carried the cross before them as they made their way to the fields, singing litanies as they went. The Dutch knew the week as Crays-Week for the same reason.

  The name of Gang-Week was sometimes given to the Rogation Week. The term, to gang meant "to go", and therefore stood for the procession of the clergy and participants from the villages to the fields. Also known as Procession Day, the clergy and participants would make a procession around the boundaries of the parish, all the while praying for its protection. This ceremony was known as "beating the bounds".

  During the Rogation Days, participants abstained from large meals. They were not enjoined to fast, but simply to make their meals lighter than usual. They ate salads, hard eggs and "green sauce" on the Rogation Days. And because of that custom, the week was sometimes known as Grass-Week.