Today begins the Winter Ember Days! What are the Ember Days and some of those other observances with funny names in the Church Year? Have I got a video for you:
Last week was a bit complicated for tracking the Collect of the Day in the Daily Offices. In a normal week, you start the Sunday’s Collect on the Saturday evening before, and use it through Saturday morning until the next Sunday Collect kicks in. Last week, however, had two holy days, one of which redefined the rest of the week:
- Sunday morning: Collect for the Last Sunday of Epiphany
- Sunday evening through Monday evening: Collect for St. Matthias Day
- Tuesday morning and evening: Collect for the Last Sunday of Epiphany
- Wednesday morning through Saturday morning: Collect for Ash Wednesday
This week we have the Lenten/Spring Ember Days, causing a similar mix-up of the Collect of the Day:
- Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: Collect for the First Sunday in Lent
- Wednesday: Collect for an Ember Day
- Thursday: Collect for the First Sunday in Lent
- Friday, Saturday: Collect for an Ember Day
One of the things that makes this tricky is the fact that we, in the 2019 Prayer Book, only have two Collects for the Ember Days. Sometimes, like in Advent a few months ago, this works out fine because a holy day (in that case, St. Thomas) sometimes cuts in and overwrites one of the Ember Days, allowing us to use both Collects on one day each. But now that we have three Ember Days unfettered, and only two Collects to use, how should we handle this? Perhaps the simplest approach is to use the first Collect each morning and the second Collect each evening.
Another tradition worth mentioning is the fact that the classical prayer books (that is, those before 1979) call for the repetition of the Ash Wednesday Collect after the current Collect of the Day throughout the season of Lent. The 2019 Prayer Book does not direct for this to be done, but with the rubrics the way they are, there is nothing “illegal” about applying this tradition in our recitation of the Daily Office. So give that possibility due consideration also!
Today is the second Winter Ember Day. There won’t be a third (tomorrow) because it’ll be St. Thomas Day instead. If you’re an aspirant for holy orders, or a seminarian, or a deacon in transition toward the priesthood, make sure you write your bishop an Ember Day Letter to update him on your discernment and growth.
And for the rest of us, let us pray.
O God, you led your holy apostles to ordain ministers in every place: Grant that your Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the extension of your kingdom; through the great Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Advent Ember Days are upon us (see the link if you need a refresher on what ember days are). A set of Ember Days comes around every three months or so, so we get to enjoy them with a different contextual emphasis each time. In this time of year, having just heard about St. John the Baptist on the previous Sunday gives an interesting angle on the ministry: preaching the gospel, calling for repentance, baptizing, all good stuff.
But we’re in the thick of Advent, and chances are you don’t have a lot of spare time for a midweek Communion or Antecommunion service, so how about you take a page out of my book (figuratively for now) and include an appropriate hymn in your ordinary rounds of worship today? The one appointed in this customary’s daily hymnody cycle is Pour out thy Spirit from on high. The lyrics in the 2017 hymnal read thus:
Pour out thy Spirit from on high;
Lord, thine assembled servants bless;
Graces and gifts to each supply,
And clothe thy priests with righteousness.
Before thine altar when we stand
To teach the truth as taught by thee,
Savior, like stars in thy right hand
The angels of thy churches be.
Wisdom, and zeal, and faith impart,
Firmness with meekness from above,
To bear thy people on our heart,
And love the souls whom thou dost love;
To watch, and pray, and never faint,
By day and night strict guard to keep,
To warn the sinner, cheer the saint,
Nourish the lambs, and feed thy sheep.
Then, when our work is finished here,
We may in hope our charge resign.
When the Chief Shepherd shall appear,
O God, may they and we be thine! Amen.
This hymn is unusual in that it’s spoken mostly from the minister’s voice. In that sense, it’s almost not a congregational song, which is very unusual indeed. But, knowing that a fair number of clergymen read this, I can happily commend this hymn to you as a lovely prayer indeed for our character and our work.
I’m not going to break down all the scriptural references in this hymn, but a few should be noted: “clothe thy priests with righteousness” is in Psalm 132 and the Daily Office Suffrage. The reference to being “stars” and “angels” is from Revelation 1. The call to faintless watching and prayer is reminiscent of Jesus’ later teachings about anticipating the Kingdom of God, echoed a bit in St. Paul’s writings, and is particularly appropriate to the Advent season.
So please, take a moment today or Friday* to sing or pray this hymn, or others like it, on behalf of your bishop(s), priests, and deacons. We need all the prayer we can get!
* Ember Days usually come in threes: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, but this year we “lose” Saturday’s Ember Day to the feast of St. Thomas.
The Pentecost Ember Days are here! It’s been a few months since we last talked about Ember Days, so let’s hazard some repetition of material. Although in some places the purpose of these days have changed somewhat, their original purpose was to be a time of fasting and prayer for the clergy, those preparing for ordination, and those discerning a call to ordination. Positioned fairly evenly throughout the year near the changes of the season, these were often the days when ordinations would take place and people would have a quarterly reminder to pray for their clergymen.
Those who are discerning for holy orders, including transitional deacons awaiting the priesthood, typically write an Ember Day letter to their bishop, updating him on their ministerial progress and how the discernment process has been proceeding.
Each seasonal group of Ember Days is a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after an anchor date. For Advent (winter) that date is December 13th (Saint Lucia Day): the first Wednesday after that day starts off the Ember Days; for spring it’s in the first full week of Lent, for summer it’s in the Pentecost Octave (starting today), and for autumn the anchor date is September 14th (Holy Cross Day).
It’s a little tricky because the Ember Days appear in threes, yet our Prayer Book only gives us two sets of Communion Propers (Collects on page 634 and Lessons on page 732). This may be easier to deal with in the Daily Office: choose one Collect of the Day for mornings and the other for evenings.
Although the Ember Day Propers are fixed, the context of Pentecost can afford these days a different teaching emphasis. Consider the subject of ordination from the perspective of a spiritual gift. Many Anglicans believe in the “indelible mark” or “ordination character” bestowed upon the imposition of the Bishop’s hands, akin to the baptismal change the Holy Spirit also brings about. These summer ember days are good opportunities to meditate on (or teach about) that angle of the ministry.