This year I’m going to start Lent properly. No, I’m not talking about feasting on Mardi Gras; rather, I have a plan in place for a season-long effort to fast, pray and give alms so that at Easter I will be prepared to welcome once again the risen Lord into my life.
This year for fasting, I’m going to observe Ember Days in addition to the traditional fasting days of Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent. Ember Days (from the Latin quattuor tempora, or “four times”) is a set of three days in each of the four seasons. The three days are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of specific weeks. Each week day is significant: Christ was betrayed on a Wednesday, crucified on a Friday and entombed on a Saturday.
The first set of Ember Days this year is Feb. 24, 26 and 27 to give thanks for the rebirth of nature and for the gift of light, which this year is something I sorely need to acknowledge how much I appreciate.
On May 26, 28 and 29, (the days after Pentecost), I will fast to give thanks for the wheat crop, from which we get our daily bread.
In the fall, on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the Feast of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14), I will fast to give thanks for the grape harvest. Ember Days are an ancient observance, so I suspect that the end of the grapes in question was wine, but today I’m also grateful for the grapes that are dried into the raisins that I put in my granola, and also occasionally grab by the handful for a quick snack, as well as the fresh grapes that prove such a refreshing treat as I try to get all my daily servings of fruit.
The final cycle of Ember Days will be in winter, during the third week of Advent: the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of St. Lucy (Dec. 13), to give thanks for the olive crop, which in Mediterranean cultures was a significant source of food and revenue.
Fasting is one way to show our solidarity with the poor. Toward this end, I’m going to put the money I would have spent on groceries into the CRS Rice Bowl. Catholic Relief Services, the worldwide charitable arm of the U.S. bishops, uses the money from this annual Lenten collection to alleviate hunger. (See p. 8 for more information.)
More than fasting from food, I’m also going to take a suggestion from Pope Francis and fast from hurting words, from anger, from bitterness. Instead, I’m going to be intentional about saying kind words, about being patient not only with others but also with myself, about focusing on reasons for joy rather than excuses for resentment.
The intentions for the Ember Days will give me the basis for reflection on those days, but for Lent I’m also going to spend more time with The Little Black Book which offers meditations for each day. I’m also going to make an effort to attend daily Mass a couple of times a week.
The social distancing required during this past year because of the pandemic has made me realize just how much I depend on my friends and our Catholic community. Facebook posts and texts just don’t restore my soul in the same way as in-person conversation and liturgy. Therefore, I’m going to make the effort to call my friends, not just text; to mail a card rather than post on Facebook; to take advantage of attending a liturgy in person when it’s safe to do so.
None of these is a grand sacrifice, but I know from experience that trying to be a zealot during Lent only makes me tired, not holy. Instead, my prayer is that these small steps will lead me closer to God, so that on Easter Day my soul will rejoice that he is risen.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at email@example.com.