Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ember Days - It's Good For Your Soul

Today is Ember Wednesday.  What's an Ember Wednesday, you say?  You've never heard of such a thing?  Well, that's because this is another Church tradition that was dumped in 1969.  Why did the Church dispense with these days?  You tell me.  These days involve fasting and abstinence.  In that sense, they are just not fun!  So why do we need them?

Below is one of the best descriptions of Ember Days that I have found:

Ember Days by Rev. Bernard Strasser, O.S.B.

This illustration shows, to a certain extent, how the ember days resemble our own lives. In the springtime we receive supernatural life through Baptism (represented by the baptismal candle); throughout the summer and autumn of our lives our souls are nourished by the Body (the host has been made from the kernels of wheat) and the Blood (the chalice) of our Lord. In the winter we reap the harvest of our good works as we begin our journey into eternity, fortified by Holy Viaticum and the sacrament of Extreme Unction (oil).
Ember Days
While man’s prayer is often entirely a petition, liturgical prayer is primarily praise, thanksgiving, and adoration. A typical example of this is the Gloria of the Mass in which we note the gradual rise of praise of God until it reaches a wonderful climax: “Laudamus te. Benedicimus te. Adoramus te. Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam.” (We praise Thee. We bless Thee. We adore Thee. We give Thee thanks for Thy great glory.) In her official liturgical prayers the Church constantly exhorts us to praise, adore, glorify, and thank God. Moreover, she has set aside special seasons to offer prayers of gratitude for the gifts of God. This happens four times a year on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the ember weeks which fall at the beginning of the four seasons of the year.

Ember days and ember weeks originated in early Christian days, and were first celebrated in Rome. Early in summer, in Pentecost week, the wheat was harvested. In order to thank God for this harvest, at the Offertory of the Mass a part (a so-called tithe, a tenth part) was offered for the benefit of the Church, the priests, and the poor. In like manner, it was customary to offer tithes of the other harvest in their respective seasons. When the grapes were harvested in September, there was another week of thanks, and similar offerings were made in December when the olive crop was gathered. The fruits of these harvests, wheat, wine, and oil, have been put to the highest possible use in the liturgy of the Church, for she uses them sacramentally, that is, as external signs of the inner grace imparted through her sacraments. She uses them sacramentally, that is, as external signs of the inner grace imparted through her sacraments. She uses bread and wine at the holy sacrifice of the Mass and at Holy Communion; she uses oil at Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Order, Extreme Unction, and for many of her sacramentals (baptismal water, blessing of bells, churches, chalices, etc.). Later, a fourth week of thanksgiving was added in the spring, when it is but natural for man to thank God for the awakening of nature, the budding of the first flowers, and the lengthened hours of daylight. Thus there was a portion to each season of the year a week of thanksgiving for the gifts of nature with which God has so generously enriched the world:
1. In spring, during the week after Ash Wednesday, to give thanks for the rebirth of nature and for the gift of light.
2. In summer, within the octave of Pentecost, to give thanks for the wheat crop.
3. In autumn, beginning on the Wednesday immediately after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14), to give thanks for the grape harvest.
4. In winter, within the week following the Feast of St. Lucy (December 13), during the third week of Advent, to give thanks for the olive crop.
On ember days we thank God four times a year for all the gifts of nature, especially for those used by the Church in her sacraments and sacramentals. We also thank Him for the sacraments, administered to us under the external signs of these gifts of nature. Finally, on these days we pray for the priests, usually ordained at this time, who administer the sacraments to us.
From With Christ Through the Year by Rev. Bernard Strasser, O.S.B., illustrated by Sister M.A. Justina Knapp, O.S.B., Bruce Publishing Company, Copyright 1947. 
As you can see, these days are connected to the sacraments and teachings of the Church.  That, of course, offends other religions, particularly Protestants who reject these things, so we must try to do whatever we can not to offend them.  But even though the Church doesn't officially observe these days anymore, there is no reason why we can't do so individually.  I personally hate fasting, which is all the more reason why I need to do it, and which actually makes it much more meaningful.  The Novus Ordo church asks so little of people (there are now only two required fast days - Ash Wednesday and Good Friday), and I think the result has been that the church and all thoughts of God and eternal salvation are far from the thoughts of most Catholics.  Instead, we have all the distraction and noise of the "Holiday Season" (it's not even Christmas anymore), doing even more to drive God out of our lives.

We need to do whatever we can to combat the distractions of the anti-God world around us.  If you can, do yourself a favor.  Try to fast and abstain on these Ember Days.  It will be good for your soul!

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