From the Pastor: Ember Days of September
This Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday are the Ember Days of September in the 1962 liturgical calendar. They are non-existent in the new order calendar, but that doesn’t mean that they are not to be taken seriously. In the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence dated November 18, 1966, they have this to say under the subheading “Vigils and Ember Days”:
17. Vigils and Ember Days, as most now know, no longer oblige to fast and abstinence. However, the liturgical renewal and the deeper appreciation of the joy of the holy days of the Christian year will, we hope, result in a renewed appreciation as to why our forefathers spoke of "a fast before a feast." We impose no fast before any feast-day, but we suggest that the devout will find greater Christian joy in the feasts of the liturgical calendar if they freely bind themselves, for their own motives and in their own spirit of piety, to prepare for each Church festival by a day of particular self-denial, penitential prayer and fasting.
If you recall, it is this document that also removed the obligation to abstain from meat on Fridays outside of Lent and Good Friday, leaving it up to each individual Catholic to choose whichever penance they found most edifying on those other Fridays. That change went over exactly like the Vigil and Ember Days change. You would be hardpressed to find anyone, even among clergy, who “for their own motives and in their own spirit of piety” takes seriously the four sets of Ember Days in the old calendar if for no other reason than since the issuance of this 1966 Statement the USCCB has failed to issue any guidelines for when Ember Days are now to be celebrated! There are no Ember Days listed in the new liturgical calendar, so how are Catholics, even those who want to “freely bind themselves” to the old ways, to do so? The answer is simply, “Follow the 1962 Mass!”
We are the only parish in the diocese that does so. Although there are other parishes where the Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated according to the 1962 Missal of Pope John XXIII, the others do not have those Masses daily and therefore, it is not on the radar for most of the parishioners who only attend Sunday Mass in the venerable Rite. But here we not only have the 1962 Mass offered daily, so that all of the Ember Days will be celebrated, but we have also, for the past few years, put out a parish calendar listing such things so that even those who cannot attend the Ember Days’ Masses can still see that they are being celebrated and can willingly (for there is no obligation even for us) follow the penitential practices behind those days.
Many people will think that the current rules removing obligations from such things as Friday abstinence and Ember Day fasting with partial abstinence (meaning meat can only be consumed at the one allowed meal that day) is a very pastoral—even holy—thing to do. After all, if good things are done out of piety instead of out of obligation, so the current thinking goes, it is much more pleasing to God and more virtuous. But that is not the traditional way of looking at this topic. Pope St. Leo the Great explains this in several sermons on Ember Days! “Although it be lawful for each one of us to chastise his body by self-imposed punishments, and restrain, with more of less severity, the concupiscences of the flesh which was against the spirit, yet need is that, on certain days, a general fast be celebrated by all. Devotion is all the more efficacious and holy, when the whole Church is engaged in works of piety, with one spirit and one soul. Everything, in fact, that is of a public character is to be preferred to what is private; and it is plain, that so much the greater is the interest at stake, when the earnestness of all is engaged upon it. As for individual efforts, let each one keep up his fervour in them; let each one, imploring the aid of divine protection, take to himself the heavenly armour, wherewith to resist the snares laid by the spirits of wickedness; but though he may act bravely in his own private combats, yet will he fight more safely and more successfully, when he shall confront the enemy in a public engagement; for in that public engagement, he has not only his own valour to which to trust, but he is under the leadership of a King who can never be conquered, and engaged in a battle fought by all his fellow-soldiers; so that, being in their company and ranks, he has the fellowship of mutual aid.” Another September he again preached on these Ember Days, “God has sanctioned this privilege, that what is celebrated in virtue of a public law is more sacred than that which depends on a private regulation. The exercise of self-restraint which an individual Christian practices by his own will is for the advantage of that single member; but a fast undertaken by the Church at large includes everyone in the general purification. God’s people never is so powerful as when the hearts of all the faithful join together in the unity of holy obedience, and when, in the Christian camp, one and the same preparation is made by all, and one and the same bulwark protects all...” Oh, how different was our theological understanding of such things as “obedience” and “obligation” in years past!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka