Liturgy LinesReturn to Liturgy Lines
Spring Ember Day
Spring Ember Day
I wonder how many people are aware that Friday week, 4th September, is designated as the Spring Ember Day for the Catholic Church in Australia.
The word ‘ember’ in this context does not mean a glowing or smouldering piece of coal or wood; it probably comes from the old English word ymbryne meaning a recurring period.
Ember Days originated in pagan celebrations connected with harvest, vintage and seed time that were taken into the Church calendar. They were four groups of three days (always Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) of fasting and abstinence observed after the first Sunday of Lent, Pentecost Sunday, the feast of the Holy Cross on September 14th and the feast of St Lucy on December 13th. Ember Days corresponded roughly with the beginning of each of the four seasons.
The second Vatican Council retained Ember Days in principle but left it to bishops conferences to determine the time, number, and purpose of Ember Days.
Last year, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference decided that the Australian Church should observe the first Fridays in Autumn and Spring (March and September) each year as special days of prayer and penance. All Fridays are days of penance with fast and abstinence in any case.
The official document on the liturgical year and calendar says this about Ember Days:
On ember days the practice of the Church is to offer prayers to the Lord for the needs of all people, especially for the productivity of the earth and for human labour, and to give him public thanks (GNLYC 45).
In good times, it is natural to offer praise and thanksgiving to God for the blessings bestowed on us. In times of drought or flood in Australia, our prayers focus on people and places affected by natural disaster. At all times we need to be attentive to those who are devastated by famine and exploitation.
Ember Days in the 21st century will need to focus on the environment, climate change, and our stewardship of the world’s resources. They will help us connect our intercession for favourable conditions with a conversion of heart in relation to our care of the earth. For this reason, the bishops requested that emphasis be placed on doing penance, and on fasting and abstaining in connection with these Ember Days.
Fasting and abstaining from meat will serve to encourage restraint in our exploitation of natural resources. A day of penance will express our solidarity with those who are disadvantaged, especially those who suffer through famine and the inequitable distribution of the world’s goods.
It is recommended that prayers and readings for celebrating Eucharist on Spring Ember Days be chosen from Masses for Various Needs and Occasions. The Opening Prayer from Mass for the Progress of Peoples is particularly appropriate for liturgy on the day as well as for private prayer:
“Father, you have given all peoples one common origin,
and your will is to gather them as one family in yourself.
Fill the hearts of all with the fire of your love
and the desire to ensure justice for all their brothers and sisters.
By sharing the good things you give us
may we secure justice and equality for every human being,
an end to all division, and a human society built on love and peace.”