Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Autumnal Ember Days

This Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are the traditional autumn Ember Days (after the feast of the Holy Cross on September 14). These seasonal days of fasting and prayer seem to have originated at Rome by at least the third century, and they were probably Christian days of fasting in contrast to pagan feasts near three of the seasons. Slowly the observance spread throughout the Western Church, and in the early Middle Ages, the days also became associated with ordinations.

Until liturgical revisions of the 1960's and 1970's, Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholic liturgies included Ember Day  prayers. However, newer liturgies made them optional, and the Ember Days practically disappeared in many places. Those who still use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer find two Ember Day prayers for those to be ordained included among the general prayers. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer has an additional general prayer for the increase of the ministry and a set of Ember Day propers. The Collect for the Day also focuses on the increase of candidates for ministry rather than on actual ordinations. The 1962 Canadian BCP includes propers for each set of Ember Days. The autumn theme focuses on Christian labor.

It is certainly appropriate to have seasonal days of prayer and fasting. It is also fitting for us to pray for ordained vocations. The Church always needs candidates with sound spiritual, moral and mental qualities to pursue ordination. Those already ordained also need the Church's prayers that they may fulfill their vocations in a godly manner.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Labor Day and Christian Vocation

I must admit that I have never considered American Labor Day an important holiday. I grew up in an area and in a family where Labor Day was often viewed as foreign, as an urban holiday. Farmers, carpenters, small businesses, and medical personnel where I lived tended to ignore the day. Even the schools in my county did not include this holiday till I was in my early teens. At most, it was sometimes an evening to fry fish, grill burgers or make ice cream. Over the years, the observance has slowly became a part of the landscape all over the US. Religiously speaking, in the churches where I have attended, the Sunday before Labor Day has often been a day to add a little prayer for all people in their work.

However, the concept of Christian vocation does deserve more attention than we often give it. St. Paul's epistles repeatedly remind believers that they have been called in various ways to various stations in life and to various forms of service. Although a vocation to ordained ministry is certainly important, Christian vocation is a broader concept. A vocation is also more than a job or an occupation, although a job or a profession can be part of the way an individual Christian expresses his/her vocation. In fact, every Christian has a general vocation or calling to faith in Christ expressed in all of life. Each Christian also has a unique combination of sub-vocations, including job(s), varied family and social roles, community responsibilities, and religious or churchly service. Such a view of vocation goes back to the Scriptures, and was renewed during the Reformation era by Luther and other reformers. In the BCP, the General Intercession in Family Prayer asks that every member of the Church "in his vocation and ministry, may serve thee faithfully" (1928 BCP, p. 590). And the Prayer "For Every Man in his Work" speaks of  "our several callings" (1928 BCP, p. 44). Labor Day is an appropriate time for us to pause and consider how we may be of greater service to God in all our callings or vocations.