When the priests of the diocese and I gathered for several days in November, we decided unanimously to encourage the observance of the Ember Days throughout the diocese — at least during this new liturgical year. The decision came from a discussion about the scandals that have erupted in the Church over the past months.
Prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the Ember Days were times of penance and prayer that occurred four times in the liturgical year. They are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following the Feast of St. Lucy (Dec. 13); following the First Sunday of Lent; following the Solemnity of Pentecost; and following the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14). The first Ember days in this new liturgical year will occur on Dec. 19, 21 and 22.
Although the Ember Days are no longer official liturgical celebrations, our priests are asking that all Catholics observe them as days of reparation and prayer for the purification of the Church and her priests and bishops. The Ember Days have also been observed as times of prayers for priests. Traditionally, the Ember Days were days of fast and abstinence, allowing one full meal, with meat at the principal meal only, except on Fridays where complete abstinence was required.
There is no longer the binding obligation for fasting and abstinence, but, as Jesus declared, there are some demons that can be expelled only by prayer and fasting (cf. Mt. 17:21).
I would like to suggest some reasons why and how we might observe the Ember days;
1. Ember Days: A Mini-Lent. These few days spread throughout the liturgical year are occasions for all of us to put aside time for God through prayer and penance. Even as the pope and bishops work to establish mechanisms that will serve to ensure that acts of sexual abuse will come to an end and the guilty punished, we must remember that the profound purification of the Church that is needed will not come without serious prayer and penance.
2. Ember Days: Prayer for victims of clerical sexual abuse. We must never forget the victims. We cannot undo the violence done to them, but we can and must keep them in our prayers.
3. Ember Days: Prayer for priests and bishops. It was customary to ordain priests on the Saturday Ember Days. With this emphasis on priests, the Ember Days invite us to pray especially for a deepening of holiness in the lives of priests and bishops. We priests and bishops need your prayers if we are to be strong and faithful in serving Jesus and his Church.
4. Ember Days: Prayer for seminarians. God has blessed our diocese with many seminarians who want nothing other than to serve the Lord and his Church — and to do it better than those who have hurt young people and the entire Church by their sinful acts.
But we can’t forget to keep praying that more young men will generously follow Christ’s invitation to follow him as priests.
Let us call upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we honor during this Advent Season under her titles of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe, that she will intercede for the healing of her Son’s Church:
O holy Virgin Mary, our Mother and the Mother of Priests, pray that God will raise up priests and bishops in his Church to serve after the example his Son. We beg your prayers at this critical time that the Church will never again know the evil that has attacked so many in these days.