September is traditionally designated for devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, a feast celebrated in the heart of the month, the 15th, immediately after the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. These feasts, together with other traditional observances, imbue the whole month with a sombre tone.
Speaking of sombre, other traditional September observances might deepen the penitential and reparative spirit without which our Catholic identity is enervated and incomplete.
For example, in September’s third full week on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, we have the Ember Days, moments of fasting and penance. Bishops can even today, using the post-conciliar Ordinary Form calendar, assign Ember Days observances in the dioceses entrusted to them. This year, for example, in the wake of horrifying new clerical scandals, some bishops in the United States have called for worshippers to perform penance on Ember Days. Bishop Morlino of Madison in Wisconsin has invited people to fasting and abstinence, “in reparation for the sins and outrages committed by members of the clergy”. “Some sins, like some demons, can only be driven out by prayer and fasting,” the bishop wrote.
What we face as a Church right now surely has a strong demonic content and intent. We have to tackle this crisis with all the spiritual tools at our disposal. Fasting is recommended by the Lord. Without chosen penance, we cannot be who our Lord calls us to be as Catholics.
This week, on September 17, we celebrate the feast of the Impression of the Stigmata on St Francis of Assisi at La Verna in 1224. Francis, like other great saints such as Padre Pio, Catherine of Siena, Gemma Galgani and perhaps the Apostle Paul (Galatians 6:17), received the wounds of the Crucified Lord. Francis was fasting during the annual “St Michael’s Lent”, 40 days stretching from August 15, the Assumption of Mary, to Michaelmas, September 29, the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St Michael the Archangel on Mount Gargano in Italy.
Sombre September, with our celebration of the Lordly Cross and Marian Sorrows, with its saintly Stigmata and seasonal Ember Days, with its Lent of St Michael, was traditionally a time of fasting and penance for our forebears. Why shouldn’t it be for us too?
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