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 | By Michelle DiFranco

Giving Thanks for the Grape Harvest

And Praying for the Newly Ordained

Every now and then, I’m asked if I ever run out of ideas for this column. That’s a fair question, given that I’ve written it for 18 years! Well, with all of the feasts, traditions and well over 10,000 recognized saints in the Catholic Church, I’ve got plenty to write about … a blessing that comes from the rich and beautiful culture of our faith!

I’ve always equated my research to digging for buried treasure. I get to rediscover captivating traditions of our faith and trace back the layers of history from which they were formed. Recently, I unearthed one I had heard of but knew nothing about: Ember Days.

I would conjecture that most Catholics are unaware of Ember Days because they were observed prior to the late 20th century. They consist of three days of fasting and prayer (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) four times per year.

The four Embertides revolve around the changing of the seasons and take place in the spring (after Ash Wednesday), summer (after Pentecost), fall (after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross) and winter (after the feast of St. Lucy).

Ember Days date back to ancient Rome. When Christianity came to Rome, the pagan festivities lost favor and the seasonal celebrations became more somber and penitential. Pope Gelasius (492-96) initiated the ordination of priests and deacons on the Saturday of the Embertide. Soon after, the observance of the Ember Days spread to other countries throughout Europe, and the faithful were encouraged to fast and pray for the newly ordained.

September is upon us and so are the autumn Ember Days (Sept. 21, 23 and 24). Since the early Christians gave thanks for the grape harvest during these days, I came up with a simple recipe that coincided with that theme and reflected the penitential tone of the Embertide. I couldn’t help but think of Luke 10:2: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

I think it is worthy of our time to return to this age-old tradition of fasting and praying for our newly ordained whom the Lord calls as shepherds. And it would bless us to rekindle the tradition of Ember Days to pray in gratitude for the bounty that comes from God.

Michelle DiFranco is a designer and the busy mom of three children.

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Balsamic-Roasted Grape Crostini

  • 1 French baguette
  • 3 cups grapes (sliced in half, lengthwise)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary (chopped) plus extra for garnish
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 small tub mascarpone cheese
  • ¼ cup pine nuts (toasted)

Slice baguette diagonally to half-inch-thick pieces and broil in oven until golden brown (about 2-3 minutes). Place on a serving plate. Reset oven to 425 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the sliced grapes, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, chopped rosemary, salt and pepper. Spread out on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until slightly wilted and caramelized. Remove from oven and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Spread mascarpone on each piece of toasted French bread. Spoon a tablespoon of the grape mixture on each piece and top with a few toasted pine nuts and extra rosemary.