Rogate – What Shall We Ask?

Every 6th Sunday of Easter I somehow get pushed into the same meditation. When we date things we find a calendar and just write say 5/3/24 – May 3rd, 2024. And that time encodes where we are in the earth’s annual trip around the sun.  It is handy for calculating interest owed or accrued as the days are easily countable. In other words it is a practical notation, but it is also a skinny one. Through at least the 19th Century, something on May 3rd might have been dated – On the Feast of Philip and James.  This Sunday would have been known as Rogate. The Sundays all took their names from the first words spoken in service from the Introits originally in Latin.  Rogate means to ask.  The First Sunday in Easter was Quasimodogeniti which means “as newborn babies.” You might recognize Quasimodo from the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He was born on that Sunday.  Marking time in those ways is thick.  It isn’t as practical for calculating interest, but it communicates a lot more than simply where this rock is in its yearly journey. It is centered on what we the people of God are asked to be in contemplation about that week.  And if you are a mystical sort, it might communicate what God is about at that time.

So if you come across a document dated Rogation week, what we are asked to contemplate is asking.  Originally this Sunday was tied to the Spring Planting.  Whether the seeds were already planted or if you were behind and still needed to get some in, Rogate was the Sunday that you asked God for his blessings on the ground and on the crops.  Deep rural congregations would often exit the sanctuary and turn the soil while asking for blessing.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And that daily bread starts with these seeds and this soil.

Rogate for a long time also had a specific meaning in parish life. Sometimes just the Pastor, sometimes it would be an entire procession, if you were Roman Catholic a Eucharistic one, would walk the boundaries of the parish. As the community prayed for its daily bread and the planting, so also would you pray for the entire people entrusted to the care of the parish.  The idea of a congregation and the idea of a parish get treated as synonyms today, but they are quite distinct. You could have many congregations within a parish.  You could have “rogue” congregations.  A congregation is ultimately just a gathering of people.  The parish was a defined geographic space full of sinners and saints and everything in between.  The parish priest/pastor/vicar was called to hold a spiritual office for the parish – all those within it.  Those seen daily, and those never seen. Rogate was the week to be seen.  And to ask God for the soil, that it might prove good soil.

I get to thinking in the same veins because I think these changes tell us a lot about ourselves.  We no longer really have parishes, even the Roman Catholics.  We are all “rogue congregations”.  Singular outposts of believers gathering around word and sacrament. And this is still meaningful.  And the promises are still present.  But it is thinner.  It is the church admitting that she no longer influences larger areas.  At the same time the boundaries which once were very easy to recognize – you walked the boundary stones yearly. They are now moved all over to who knows where. Which means questions about what exactly one is called to. And if you bump into the neighboring vicar walking the boundaries, what do you owe him?  But maybe more importantly who and what are we asking for these days?  At the same time as our lives have often become so busy, they have become so thin.  The thickness of living with family and known neighbors, has thinned out in many ways.  Lifelong work partners now come and go every six months.  People who you might spend 10 hours a day with for months leave and rarely cross our minds. The mystic cords of memory are thinner.  No longer strands of 3 connected by water, blood and spirit, but cords of one. So thin that we would rather worry about people half a world away than our literal neighbor.

We can see and feel the thinness and know it isn’t good.  But the thicker actually binds us. And are we binding ourselves to the right thing? St. Patrick knew what he was binding himself to (LSB 604). So I return yearly, made more difficult by myself having uprooted and moved a long way, and my Son heading back where we left for school, to questions about thick and thin.  To what needs Rogation.  For what should we ask the Father? 

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