The three Rogation Days, being the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, before Holy Thursday, or the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord.
If we follow the old tradition of the Ecclesia Anglicana (& the western Catholic Church) and of the reformed Church of England, then we receive the three days immediately before the Feast of the Ascension as both Rogation Days and as days of fasting and abstinence in preparation for this Festival which crown the others festivals of our Lord.
If we are going to have a Harvest Festival (UK) or Thanksgiving Day (USA) in the Autumn/Fall then we should also have Rogation [supplication to God for fruitful seasons and a good harvest] in the Spring. And if we are to prepare rightly to celebrate the Ascension of our Lord we need to fast before the festival. So we fast and pray on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
The origin of these Rogation Days seems to be an order by the Bishop of Vienne about AD 470 after an earthquake that special litanies be offered for God's care and protection, with provision of the fruit of the earth. The custom spread through Gaul, to England and to Rome. In England the custom was required by Canon 16 of the Council of Clovesho in 747.
It was continued through the Reformation in England so that we find Queen Elizabeth in 1559 by Royal Injunction requiring the restoration of a perambulation of the parish boundaries/fields to pray for a good harvest; and there appeared in the official [Second] Book of Homilies (1562) "An Homily for the Days of Rogation Week", divided into three parts for the 3 days of Rogation Week. And it is followed by "An exhortation to be spoken to such parishes where they use their perambulation in Rogation Week for the oversight and limits of their town." This was written by Archbishop Parker. When there was no walking around the boundaries of the parish, the Litany (from the BCP) was sung in church.
A serious proposal made by Bishop Cosin of Durham in 1661 to put a Collect, Epistle [James 5:13-18] & Gospel [Luke 11:1-10] for Rogation in the new edition of the BCP, that of 1662, was not followed through.
However, the Collect he wrote provides an insight into how this period of intercession and abstinence was viewed by the faithful then:
Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth, in whom we live, move and have our being, who does good unto all men, making thy sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sending rain on the just and the unjust; favourably behold us thy people, who do call upon thy name, and send us thy blessing from heaven, in giving us fruitful seasons, and filling our hearts with food and gladness; that both our hearts and mouths may be continually filled with thy praises, giving thanks to thee in thy holy Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In the 1928 BCP of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA provision of a Collect (based upon Cosin's), Epistle [ Ezekiel 34:25ff.] and Gospel [Luke 11:5ff.] is provided for the Rogation Days. There are also two Collects "For Fruitful Seasons" provided to be used on Rogation Sunday and the Rogation Days in the section of this Prayer Book called "Prayers and Thanksgivings".
The members of the Church militant on earth need to be fed both by the fruit of the earth [thus the need for supplication in Rogation and thanksgiving at Harvest] and by the gifts, graces, virtues and characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ, who ascends into heaven to be our exalted Prophet, Priest and King.
The week containing Holy Thursday and the three Rogation Days is thus very important.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America