A Year of Repentance and Ember Days

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Sep 14, 2018

On September 10, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik announced a Year of Repentance for his diocese “to fast and pray for the purification of the Church in light of the scandal of child sexual abuse.” His letter was addressed to the clerics (priests, deacons and seminarians) of the Pittsburgh diocese.

This Year of Repentance is markedly different from other holy years dedicated to a certain intention or theme. Bishop Zubik is calling for fasting and prayer by the clerics themselves: “Faced with the sinful actions of the members of our own ranks of the clergy, who are called to manifest the example of Christ, we feel both shame and sorrow, and are reminded of our own sinfulness and the need for mercy.” All faithful are invited to participate, but this call for a dedicated Year of Repentance is first and foremost for the clergy of the diocese of Pittsburgh.

Bishop Zubik is using the traditional liturgical Ember Days for the main vehicle for abstinence, fasting and a holy hour by the clergy. Ember Days are quarterly observances with three days set aside (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) to pray in gratitude for the blessings of the season and human labor, to thank God publicly. There are twelve Ember Days in all. Traditionally Embertide was also decided as a time to pray for priests, particularly those who were being ordained. Ember Days are no longer included in the Universal Roman Calendar but they are not abolished. The liturgical observance is changed, mainly observed through the local ordinary of the diocese, such as this Year of Repentance. On these days Bishop Zubik is asking for abstinence, fasting and a Holy Hour by the clergy.

In the 1962 Roman Missal there were particular propers and Lectionary for the four sets of Ember Days. This chart contains the original readings.

The Third Roman Missal (current) uses “Masses for Various Needs and Occasions” for Rogation Days and Ember Days. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal instructs each diocese to form their particular calendar, and each nation their own calendar. “In the drawing up of the Calendar of a nation, the Rogation Days and Ember Days should be indicated, as well as the forms and texts for their celebration, and other special measures should also be kept in mind.” I have never seen them listed in the USA calendar, but perhaps this move by Bishop Zubik will restore the Ember Days to the US Liturgical Calendar.

The current Roman Missal explains Ember Days:

45. On Rogation and Ember Days the Church is accustomed to entreat the Lord for the various needs of humanity, especially for the fruits of the earth and for human labor, and to give thanks to him publicly.

46. In order that the Rogation Days and Ember Days may be adapted to the different regions and different needs of the faithful, the Conferences of Bishops should arrange the time and manner in which they are held.

Consequently, concerning their duration, whether they are to last one or more days, or be repeated in the course of the year, norms are to be established by the competent authority, taking into consideration local needs.

47. The Mass for each day of these celebrations should be chosen from among the Masses for Various Needs, and should be one which is more particularly appropriate to the purpose of the supplications.

The Ember Days for the Year of Repentance in the Pittsburgh diocese will be:

  1. September 19, 21, 22, 2018 (Fall or Holy Cross Ember Days)
  2. December 19, 21, 22, 2018 (Winter or Advent Ember Days)
  3. March 13, 15, 16, 2019 (Spring or Lent Ember Days)
  4. June 12, 14, 15, 2019 (Summer or Pentecost Ember Days

Other dioceses could choose different dates for the Ember Days, so that it why it is worded in this way. Ember Days are no longer fixed on the liturgical calendar.

The fasting and abstinence would follow the current laws of the Church, with abstaining being from all meat, and fasting would be one full meal a day, with the allowance of two smaller meals that do not equal the main meal, and no eating between meals. For those that choose to follow Bishop Zubic’s call, it is not under pain of sin, so it is one’s particular choosing of how to fast and abstain. And of course, fasting and abstaining does not have to only refer to food.

Formerly, Ember Days had only abstinence on Fridays except during the Summer or Pentecost Ember Days, which fell during the former Pentecost Octave and no abstaining was required.

Because Ember Days are not a normal occurrence in our Liturgical Year, I have written several posts over the years (which are listed below) that explain Ember Days and how to observe them. With Bishop Zubik’s call for this Year of Repentance, the Ember Days return, but with a twist. Ember Days carried an emphasis on praying for priests, especially the newly ordained. Now the clergy are praying for their forgiveness and renewal.

For Further Reading on Ember Days:

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, mother, CGS catechist and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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