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Praying and fasting for priests during Ember Days


The Church has a long tradition of praying for priests four times a year.

An ancient liturgical tradition in the Western (Latin) Catholic Church revolves around the changing of the four seasons and consists of three days set apart for fasting and prayer. In English they are known as “Ember Days” and have been celebrated by the Church for centuries.

These special days of fasting were established very early in the Church and consist of a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at the beginning of each season (Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter). This year the Fall Ember Days fall on September 19, 21 and 22.

Traditionally, ordinations to the priesthood and diaconate were celebrated during Ember Days, and the faithful were urged to offer their fasting and prayers for those to be ordained. Eventually ordinations were held at different times of the year, but the laity were still encouraged to pray and offer sacrifices for priests during Ember Days.

A catechism from 1899 elaborates on this traditional feature of Ember Days.

It is the duty of the faithful to pray God to send them good priests. Our Lord says: “Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that He send forth laborers into His harvest” (Matt. ix. 38). Remember that a priest is the salvation or the perdition of his flock. In the Old Testament we read that when other scourges were of no avail to turn the people, hardened in sin, from their evil ways, God sent upon them the heaviest scourge of all, wicked and corrupt priests. Let us therefore make it our continual prayer, that we may have good priests. The Ember days are appointed for this purpose.

One way that the faithful prayed for priests during these days was offering a specific litany for priests. Below is a portion of this litany that is specifically geared to praying for priests and bishops, asking God to preserve them in holiness so that they may lead their flock in the Gospel.

These prayers invoke God’s divine protection over the shepherds of his flock, praying that they may not turn out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing.

God the Father,
Have mercy on us.

God the Son,
Have mercy on us.

God the Holy Spirit,
Have mercy on us.

We pray to you, Lord Christ.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the holy Church of God, that it may be filled with truth and love, and be found without fault at the Day of your Coming, we pray to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For all members of your Church in their vocation and ministry, that they may serve you in a true and godly life, we pray to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For N., our Presiding Bishop, and for all bishops, priests, and deacons, that they may be filled with your love, may hunger for truth, and may thirst after righteousness, we pray to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For N., chosen bishop (priest, deacon) in your Church, we pray to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

That he may faithfully fulfill the duties of this ministry, build up your Church, and glorify your Name, we pray to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

That by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit he may be sustained and encouraged to persevere to the end, we pray to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For his family [the members of his household or community], that they may be adorned with all Christian virtues, we pray to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For all who fear God and believe in you, Lord Christ, that our divisions may cease and that all may be one as you and the Father are one, we pray to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the mission of the Church, that in faithful witness it may preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, we pray to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For ourselves; for the forgiveness of our sins, and for the grace of the Holy Spirit to amend our lives, we pray to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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