Sunday, September 13, 2015

Holyrood Embering: Observing Holy Cross Ember Week

Tomorrow, Monday, 14 September, is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which makes this week an Ember Week. Historically Christians in the Western Church observe Ember Weeks by fasting and/or abstaining on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Days of fasting and/or abstinence only amount to a diet plan when not accompanied by more time spent in prayer and concrete acts of charity (i.e., selflessly doing things for other people). Observing Ember Days is no no longer obligatory for Roman Catholics. However, Ember Days were not abolished after the Second Vatican Council.

Ember days were uniformly set forth for the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Clermont in AD 1095, the same council at which Pope Urban II called forth the First Crusade. As a result, there was a Latin mnemonic: Dant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia/Ut sit in angariâ quarta sequens feria. From this we received the English mnemonic: "Fasting days and Emberings be Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie." "Holyrood" refers to the Feast of the Holy Cross, the occasion for making this week an Ember Week.

In addition to fasting and prayer, we are encouraged to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance during Ember weeks by going to confession. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal calls for bishops in various countries where the Church is present to set forth Ember Days and provide texts for their celebration.

Due to all the criticism, often exaggerated and unjust, of the Second Vatican Council when it comes to such matters, I firmly believe that what the Council Fathers and Bl Pope Paul VI, who was given the arduous task of the implementing the Council, were seeking was not to abolish these tried and true means of spiritual and ecclesial growth, but to promote spiritual maturity among the faithful not by laying heavy burdens on them, but issuing an invitation. It seems obvious to me that prayer and fasting are precisely what we need more of, along with a reduction in rancor.

I invite you to join me this week, not because you have to, or out of a guilt-ridden sense of obligation, which is foreign to Christianity, but because it is a great opportunity. I also invite you fast and pray for the upcoming Synod on the Family, which is my intention this week.

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