Diocesan News

Parishes restore ‘Ember Days’ tradition

Prayers offered in thanksgiving, for crops, for safety, for priests

FAIRBURY (SNR) – While many people complain about the weather, one diocesan parish and its mission are doing something about it.

“Last fall there was an amazing crop in the fields,” said Father John Birkel, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Fairbury and St. Mary Parish in Alexandria. “Then it rained and rained and rained and rained. And at that time the Lord inspired me that we should pray about the weather more than we do.”

He remembered his mother talking about the Church tradition of “Ember Days” and began researching the history.

Ember days are three days set apart in each of the four seasons of the year, as special days of prayer and thanksgiving, for a total of 12 days.

Ember Days are typically held on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of four weeks, and are traditionally days of fasting and abstaining from meat.

“In the spring,” Father Birkel said, “they are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the first full week of Lent. In the early summer… the week following Pentecost. In the fall they are the days just prior to the Feast of the Holy Cross. And in the winter they are just before the Feast of St. Lucy.”

The name is a corruption of the Latin for “four times,” Quatuor Tempora. The tradition of four sets of Ember Days goes back to Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), and three sets of Ember days dates as early as the year 222. Leo the Great, Father Birkel explained, even considered that they were of apostolic origin.

“And it does only stand to reason,” he said, “that since we all depend on farmers for survival that we should ask the Lord of the Harvest to bless the harvest so that we can be well fed and safe.”

He added, “and someone pointed out to me then that we also need to pray for our priests so that they can give us the bread of life.”

“Ember Days gives us a time to focus in on what we do for a living,” said Bob VanWesten. “Being a farmer, we always are asking God for good weather and these days make for a good time to praise God for what he has done for us.”

Father Birkel implemented the Ember Days at his parishes this year the week before the first set. He preached about the intentions at Masses and asked the people to fast and pray, especially offering the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday Masses, for the intentions. He said the idea was well received.

“I had one couple who drove about 100 miles in order to take part in all three Masses,” he said.

“As farmers and living in a farming community, we appreciate having the Ember Masses throughout the year,” said parishioner Rhonda Burkhart. “These Masses remind us of God’s role in our lives and our farms. We ask God for the right kind of weather to plant, grow, and harvest our crops. And because farming can be dangerous, we are also reminded to ask God to keep us and our neighbors safe.”

Father Birkel added that the goal wasn’t for people to pray “harder,” but to join one another in praying for good weather, safety, in thanksgiving for crops, and for priests.

He shared a remark from Saint John Vianney, the well-known patron saint of parish priests.

“He said that if you light a single piece of straw on fire it’s no big deal… but if you light a haystack on fire now you have a fire that can melt glass. That’s what it’s like when we pray together.”

So, he concluded, instead of complaining about the weather, “take that energy and use it to ask Our Heavenly Father to bless us with good weather, safety in our labors, and with good and holy priests.”

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