This is a time of prayer for creation. (See this post on the World Day of Prayer for Creation.) Perhaps not coincidentally, it is also the time of the Fall Ember Days. Ember Days were a thing in the Church before Vatican II. Not so much anymore. We observed them on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at various times during the year. Next week is Ember Week. September 18, 20, and 21 are the Ember Days.
Note that it’s the terrestrial, not the liturgical, year that counts here. Ember Days are close to the earth. Ancient Rome celebrated three of these groups of three days to honor grain harvest (summer), vintage (Fall), and seed time (winter). The Church continued the tradition for the benefit of converts from Paganism and later added a fourth set for spring.
Ember Days and care for creation
Ember Days observance connects well with care for the earth. Traditionally one prayed, fasted (no food between meals) and half-abstained (meat allowed at one meal). The Catholic Encyclopedia says the purpose of Ember Days is
to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach [people] to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy.
Making use of the gifts of nature in moderation is exactly the prescription of environmentalists for the health of the planet. Imagine three days in which Catholics commit publicly to moderate their consumption of earth’s resources, especially of meat. The reduction of our collective carbon footprint would be considerable and the witness value also.
The Catholic bishops of Australia say,
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.
Season or days? What’s appropriate to honor creation?
Several church leaders in the past few years have called the faithful to observe a month-long Season of Creation. It would begin on September 1, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and end on October 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron of ecologists. The Catholic Bishops of the Philippines in 2003, the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu in 2007 and the World Council of Churches in 2008 have made such proposalsStill there is little to no movement in the Church to add a “Season of Creation” to the Church’s Liturgical Year. I think that’s for good reasons. Actually, the traditional year does address the salvation of the world God made. In particular:
- The season of Advent looks forward to the restoration of creation.
- Christmas celebrates the joining of the divine with creation.
- Easter proclaims the story of creation and the wedding of heaven and earth.
- Every Sunday remembers and imitates God’s rest at the completion of the good work of creation.
The mysteries of the Liturgical Year proclaim God’s work of saving the world, not just humans out of the world. The Bible does not present creation as a work of God separate from salvation. The non-human world and humanity are not saved separately but in one saving act.
More Ember Days
Every season is a season of creation. Special days, rather than a special season, seem right for celebrating creation and evaluating our relationship to God’s earth. For that purpose, why not go with the seasons earth gives us? The traditional schedule for the four Ember Weeks is:
- Spring—after the first Sunday of Lent
- Summer—after Pentecost
- Fall—after the Feast of the Holy Cross, September 14
- Winter—after the Feast of Lucy—December 13.
Prayers for Ember Days
The Australian bishops desire Ember days to “express our solidarity with those who are disadvantaged, especially those who suffer through famine and the inequitable distribution of the world’s goods.” They recommend the Opening Prayer of the Mass for the Progress of Peoples for liturgical and 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.
Next week’s Ember Days are a good time for praising God, blessing creation, and assessing our relationship to our brothers and sisters and our common home. Here are some more prayers and Bible readings: