On Friday, the Church in Australia observed its first annual Autumn Ember Day.
On rogation and ember days the practice of the Church is to offer prayers to the Lord for the needs of all people, especially for the productivity of the earth and for human labour, and to give him public thanks. (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, no. 45)
The Australian Catholic Bishops have introduced Ember Days on the first Fridays of Autumn and Spring. Before the Second Vatican Council, Ember Days were sets of three days for each of the four seasons. They were days of fasting and abstinence where the Church prayed that the land provided for the people with successful crops and the like.
Nowadays, the bishops in each country are allowed to determine Ember Days so they meet the needs of the people more effectively. In a country such as ours, with such an affinity with the land, Ember Days can be good times to focus on our relationship with the land. We are invited to pray for good harvests and favourable weather, especially in times of drought, flood or, given our present experience, bushfire. In good times, Ember days can naturally be opportunities for thanksgiving.
In these more recent times, Ember Days are also important in challenging us to focus on our relationship with, and care for the land. As stewards of God’s creation, we must ensure we make responsible use of our natural resources, and care for the environment. In this way, we recognise that we play a part in the natural abundance of gifts that we hope and pray for.
These days are marked liturgically by the use of particular prayers and readings from the Missal and Lectionary for Mass. Each of us is called by the bishops to mark the day by engaging in prayer, fasting and abstinence – particularly so we may remember the great gifts the earth offers us.
The Spring Ember Day this year will be on Friday 4 September.