Tuesday, first week of Lent
Tomorrow we begin the spring Ember days!
And no, “ember” in this case has nothing to do with fire.
There are conflicting explanations of the origin & meaning of the word in this context,
but they all have to do with the four seasons.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts:
The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth,
and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth
shall be to the house of Judah, joy, and gladness,
and great solemnities: only love ye truth and peace.”
The Ember Days are times of prayer, fasting and partial abstinence
at the beginning of each of the four seasons–
the consecutive Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after Ash Wednesday,
after Pentecost, after the Exaltation of the Cross (Sept. 14) & after St. Lucy (Dec. 13).
One memory aid was the phrase “ashes, dove, cross, Lucy”.
They were definitely arranged and prescribed for the universal Church
by Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085),
but the practise of setting aside days to sanctify the seasons
goes back to the Early Church–Pope Leo the Great (440-461)
said that it went back to the Apostles themselves.
The partial abstinence means that meat was only taken at one meal of the day
on Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays (Fridays are already meatless).
Wednesday and Friday were selected
because these were the days of penance observed by the Early Church
in place of the Jewish practise of fasting on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Christians fasted on Wednesdays (the day Christ was betrayed)
and Fridays (in honor of Good Friday).
Saturdays were added as the culmination of the Ember week,
with a procession to St. Peter’s in Rome and an all-night vigil.
The Ember Days are meant to sanctify each season as it arrives.
The purpose of these days of fasting, abstinence and almsgiving,
besides the general one intended by all prayer and fasting,
was to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation,
and to assist the needy.
They are seasonal “days of recollection”, or spiritual renewal,
as well as days to ask God to bless the fruits of the earth
and to thank Him for the blessings He has provided.
They give us time to reflect on the beauty of the seasons
and what they can teach us about God and Heaven.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that “the beauty of spring, the brightness of summer,
the plenty of autumn, the rest of winter”
are foreshadowings of the wonders of our eternal home.
Ordinations came to be held during the Ember days,
so Ember Days are also good times to pray for vocations and for priests
(for Scriptural precedence for fasting and ordination going together, see Acts 13:2, 14:23).
The Saturday of the Ember Days is the most important–
at one time an all night vigil was held at the end of the Ember Days
from Saturday night to the following Sunday morning.
With the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969,
the Vatican left the celebration of Ember Days
up to the discretion of each national conference of bishops.
In the United States, the bishops’ conference has decided not to celebrate them,
but many dioceses around the world still do.
Even in the U.S., individual Catholics, a number of Religious orders
and most Latin Mass organizations still observe the Ember Days.
Our diocese has a remnant of the Lenten Ember days–this Friday (Ember Friday)
is a Day of Prayer and Penance for Diocesan and Universal Church needs.
Look upon Your family, Lord,
that, through the chastening effects of bodily discipline,
our minds may be radiant in Your Presence
with the strength of our yearning for You.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
(Opening Prayer from today’s Mass)
Isaiah 55:10-11 (God’s word will not return void)
Psalm 34:4-19 “From all their distress God rescues the just”
+Matthew 6:7-15 (Jesus gives us the “Our Father”)
We often fail to realize just how powerful words are.
They’re not just passing vibrations of air.
Words make things happen!
We can certainly see that (with the eyes of faith)
in God’s words.
And God said, “Let there be light”
and there was light
(and so on throughout the story of creation: God spoke, and so it was)
When God speaks, things happen!
He assures us that not one of His words is wasted.
For just as from the Heavens the rain and snow come down
And do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void, but shall do My will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
– Isaiah 55:10-11
What we tend to miss is that, in making us in His own image and likeness,
God’s given us a share in this same power.
When we speak, things happen!
The trouble is, we usually can’t see them.
We think nothing’s happening (or worse, that things are degenerating!).
So we repeat ourselves, babbling on & on in an attempt to finally catch God’s ear.
Jesus assures us that God heard us the first time–
in fact, He knew the whole of what we were going to say
before a breath of it ever escaped our lips! (see Psalm 139:4)
Better yet, He had the answer to our needs in progress
before we even thought it ask for it!
So why does it so often feel as though our prayers “bounce off the ceiling”?
we do not know how to pray as we ought
Jesus’ apostles knew this.
That’s why they asked Him to teach them to pray!
This is how you are to pray:
Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy Name,
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
In these few words, we ask for every good gift
that will satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts.
The trouble is, we all too often beg for what we think will satisfy our hearts.
God knows better.
He knows what will turn to ashes in our hands,
leaving our hearts as empty as ever–
and more deeply discouraged for the attempt.
Prayer, like all good communication, is a two-way street.
The trouble isn’t that God doesn’t hear our prayers,
but that we misinterpret His response.
When we pour our desires into the prayer Jesus taught us,
not only are we sure of being heard (we were being heard anyway!)
but we’re more likely to recognize, understand and cooperate with God’s answer
instead of fighting against it!
I want a certain situation resolved.
God’s method of resolving it looks like a train wreck to me.
I conclude that He’s ignoring me (or worse) and my relationship with Him deteriorates
(I lose trust in Him, take matters into my own hands, grow angry with Him, etc.).
If, however, I choose to believe that God’s given power to my words,
that they will not return void,
then I conclude that He’s heard me
and that every subsequent development (however bizarre it may seem to me!)
is His answer to my prayer,
is His most creative work to hallow His Name, bring His Kingdom to fulfillment,
fulfill His most holy will, provide for my needs
(including the needs of those I love–and those I should love!),
forgive my sins and protect me from evil.
In this confidence my heart finds rest, my soul, fulfillment.
I thank and praise Him by faith for His surpassing goodness to me
and my relationship with Him grows.
Do you really believe that God has given power to your words?
How would your life be different if you made an act of the will to adopt this confidence?
If you lay the deepest desires of your heart beside the Lord’s Prayer, where do they fit?
How can that exercise help you recognize God’s answer to your prayers?