Autumn Ember Day

The first Friday of March, which this year falls on 5th, is designated “Autumn Ember Day” in the Australian liturgical calendar.
Older readers will recall that Ember Days were part of the church year before the reforms of the second Vatican Council. 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 and Rogation Days. In 2008 the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference decided that the Australian Church should observe the first Fridays of 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 anyway, although our bishops conference has substituted other penitential practices such as prayer, self denial and helping others.
The official document on the liturgical year and calendar says this about Ember and Rogation Days:
On rogation and 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).
These days seek God’s blessing of favourable weather and a fruitful harvest from the land. 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.
The aim of Ember Days is to connect our prayers for favourable weather and good harvests with our responsibility to care for the earth as stewards of the world’s resources. For this reason, the bishops ask that emphasis be placed on doing penance, on fasting and abstinence in connection with these Ember Days.
Fasting and abstaining from meat encourage us to be restrained in our exploitation of natural resources. A day of penance expresses our solidarity with those who are disadvantaged, especially those who suffer through famine and the inequitable distribution of the world’s goods.
There are several ways to encourage observance of the Autumn Ember Day on Friday 5th March. At Masses the previous weekend, the faithful might be reminded that the upcoming Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence, and pew bulletins could include suitable prayers for families to say together on the day.
The Prayer of the Faithful at Masses and other liturgies on Friday 5th March should feature petitions “for the productivity of the earth and for human labour”, for victims of famine and exploitation and for the grace to be good stewards of God’s gift of creation. These can also be included in the prayers of intercession at services for the World Day of Prayer which is also celebrated on the first Friday of March each year.


Elizabeth Harrington