Many have written to me…
“What can we do about the crisis in the Church?”
I wish I had an easy answer that would solve everything!
But alas, I’m no prophet. Just like you, I wake up each day wondering what can be done to combat the evil prowling about our Church. And while we live in confidence, and the sure faith that the Church will prevail, it’s how we get there that remains the vexing question.
A friend recently reminded me of the long tradition in the Church of “Ember Days” or “Embertide.” These are three days of fasting and abstinence that mark the beginning of each of the four seasons. The tradition goes back centuries, perhaps even to the earliest days of the Church. The purpose of Ember days was to thank God for the gifts of His creation, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to help those in need. Ember days likely began as a Catholic way of consecrating the ancient Roman agricultural festival days.
This is exactly what the Catholic Church has done so brilliantly over the centuries. We incorporate and consecrate every year, every season, every day with ritual and prayer — to give glory to God and for our own sanctification.
In fact, until the 1960’s, the Catholic Church practiced Ember days for centuries. Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) definitively arranged Ember days for the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after December 13 (feast of St. Lucy), after Ash Wednesday, after Pentecost, and after September 14 (Exaltation of the Cross).
This means the seasonal Ember Days begin tomorrow, along with Friday and Saturday of this week.
The tradition is simple. On these three days the Church called for fasting and prayer. So on the Wednesdays and Saturdays of Embertide, like a Friday in Lent, Catholics would fast by eating only one primary meal, and two smaller meals — or perhaps, health permitting, fast from one meal altogether. And on Fridays in Embertide, we commit to both fasting and abstaining from meat. Of course, many Catholics still practice the custom of abstaining from meat on every Friday of the year, rather than substituting another form of penance, as prescribed by the Church.
Already, Bishop Robert Morlino in Madison, WI, has called on Catholics in his diocese to re-institute Ember Days. Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh has likewise done so for all the priests in his diocese. Other bishops are thinking about reviving the observance.
But here’s the truth: we don’t have to wait for our Bishops.
Why not recover this ancient tradition…
And start praying and fasting for our Church now.
P.S. While on the subject of fasting and praying for the Church, I’ve found this passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 17, especially helpful to me these past few weeks. Perhaps you will find it encouraging too:
As they were rejoining the crowd a man came up to him and went down on his knees before him.
‘Lord,’ he said, ‘take pity on my son: he is demented and in a wretched state; he is always falling into fire and into water.
I took him to your disciples and they were unable to cure him.’
In reply, Jesus said, ‘Faithless and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’
And when Jesus rebuked it the devil came out of the boy, who was cured from that moment.
Then the disciples came privately to Jesus. ‘Why were we unable to drive it out?’ they asked.
He answered, ‘Because you have so little faith. In truth I tell you, if your faith is the size of a mustard seed you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.’