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  • Writer's picturePhil


The Romans started it, in honour of the god Terminus,

at the feast of TERMINALIA, observed in April or early May.

Terminus was the god of boundaries.

His statue was merely a stone or post stuck in the ground

to distinguish between properties.

On the festival the two owners of adjacent properties

crowned the statue with garlands and raised a simple altar,

on which they offered grain, honey and wine,

and the blood of a sacrificed lamb or a suckling pig,

to pray for protection of their land for the coming year.

As the Roman Empire outgrew itself, the custom ceased,

but it was to find revival again, as the Christian church in Gaul

saw the need to pray God's loving care into a disturbing situation.

The French Bishop of Vienne in about AD 470 was extremely concerned

that a serious earthquake, besieging his diocese,

might be a sign of God’s displeasure.

He asked the people to process prayerfully around the boundary of the diocese

as a means of praying God’s will into it –

and the earthquake stopped!

Such success was seen in this simple prayerful communal act,

that the custom spread through Gaul, to England and to Rome,

praying litanies around the boundaries of parishes and dioceses

asking for God’s care and protection of the place, earthquake or not!

The name associated with the custom was ROGATION, so-called because

the whole exercise was one of asking God's protection -

"Rogare" Latin - to ask.

As an unwelcome "hangover" from the original "Terminus" festival of Roman times,

during the procession boys would be bumped on boundary stones, beaten,

or rolled in briars and ditches to ensure they never forgot the boundaries,

and passed on the knowledge to successive generations.

Thus by the 16th Century,

the old Roman festival of "Terminalia" or "boundaries"

had been adopted and adapted by the church wholeheartedly

to enable clear identification of boundaries

before the days of ordnance survey maps,

and all this by order of Queen Elizabeth the First.

This was also before "Harvest Festivals", a Victorian invention,

came into common Church use.

Rogation became primarily an opportunity to pray for protection

against a bad harvest, looking forward to the blessing of abundance.

The Victorians, being kinder souls, introduced the idea of beating objects

rather than people in their Rogation processions,

hence the expression "beating the bounds".

In the 1630s George Herbert commended the Rogation themes

of blessing fields and beating the bounds.

He believed that processions should be encouraged for four reasons:

* A blessing of God for the fruits of the field

* Justice in the preservation of bounds

* Charity in loving, walking and neighbourly accompanying one another

with reconciling of differences at the time, if there be any

* Mercy, in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of largesse,

according to need.

In the Church's calendar we are now in the Rogation period, with a particular emphasis on prayer for the land and its harvest to come, for industry, for the neighbourhood, for all in local and national government, for national and international problems, and for God's will to prevail in society, especially as we are now, in the midst of this pandemic. It is also timely that Christian Aid Week should occur each year at around Rogationtide, as we pray God's blessing globally, especially in areas where harvest is sparse or non-existent.

Loving God,

When this pandemic is over,

May we never again take for granted a handshake with a stranger

Full shelves at the shops

Conversations with neighbours

A crowded theatre

Friday night out

The taste of Communion

A routine check-up

The school rush each morning

Coffee with a friend

The stadium roaring

Each deep breath

A boring Tuesday

Life itself.

May we find that we have become more like the people You want us to be, more like the people we hoped to be, and may we stay that way -

better for each other because of the worst we have been through together.

"Thy Kingdom come....

Thy will be done..."

[Laura Kelly Fanucci]

Loving God,

strengthen our innermost being

with your love that bears all things even the weight of this global pandemic;

even the endurance of watching for symptoms of patiently waiting for this to pass; watching while we pray, keeping our gaze fixed on you,

and looking out for our neighbours near and far.

[Christian Aid, 2020]

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