What are the Ember Days? The Ember Days of Pentecost are this Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. In fact, Ember days occur four times during the year. Some who are younger or converts may have never heard of Ember Days. They were once quite important in the life of a Catholic.
Where does the word, Ember, come from? In English, The word "ember" comes from the Anglo-Saxon ymbren, which means a circuit or revolution, to go around in a circle, relating to the annual cycle of the year, having to do with the seasons (from ymb, around, and ryne, a course, running). In Spanish, there is no equivalent word, so this was translated as “De Témporas.” Some think that the name Ember comes from the Latin title of “Quatour Temporum,” but it is disputed. For English, the Anglo-Saxon derivation is more likely.
The Ember Days are fasting days, so they have a penitential character to them. Pope Leo the Great (died 461) called these days the “ieiunia quatuor temporum,” the Fast of the Four Seasons. These days always occurred at the time the seasons changed. So on these days, we would ask for special blessings for the events that happened during this time, such as a harvest.
In the Old Testament, there were times of fasting proscribed for the Jews (Zechariah 8:19). There was also a Jewish custom at the time of Our Lord Jesus Christ of fasting every Tuesday and Thursday. Very early on, Christians amended these customs. Wednesday became a day of Fast because it was the day that Christ was betrayed (Luke 22), and Friday because it was the day Jesus gave up his flesh for us. Saturday as well became a day of fast as the Romans saw it as the culmination of the Ember Week. Pope Gelasius I also saw Ember Saturday as the day to confer Holy Orders, since Apostolic Tradition prescribed that ordinations be preceded by fasting and prayer (Act 13:3).
The Jewish seasonal fasts and the Catholic Ember Days invite us to consider the wonder of the natural seasons and their dependence and relation to God. The lessons that are read on these days remind us of the cycle of nature and even more, the story of our redemption. Traditionally, these times were seen as periods of spiritual exercise and self-examination, a precursor to modern retreats and missions.
When do these Ember days occur? They are on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, four times a year. In the Church year, they happen after the first Sunday of Lent, around Pentecost, after Holy Cross, then after St. Lucy, the 13th of December. There is a Latin mnemonic device to help remember when the Ember Days fell.
Dant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia
Ut sit in angariâ quarta sequens feria.
“Holy Cross, Lucy, Ashes (Lent), and Pentecost
are the days of Fasting and Emberings."
Besides the penitential nature of these days, the Masses for these days are slightly different. On Wednesday, there are extra lessons before the Gospel, and on Saturday there are six lessons (seven on Ember Saturday in Advent). Readings that are read on Ember days are about the seasons. As an example, during Ember Saturday in September, we hear about harvests, and how we should be grateful to God for them. You could regulate your life by the Church calendar, such as when to plant crops. In relation, there would be blessings all through the year. On the Feast of St. John the Baptist, there was a blessing for Bonfires. Why not? All the branches from the trees and harvests would be dry and ready for kindling.
The fasting regulation for the Ember Days was only one full meal on Ember days, and on Ember Friday, no meat either was eaten, just like Ash Wednesday or Good Friday (1917 CIC 1252). To look at the other lung of the Catholic Church, the Eastern part, there are fasts throughout the year, such as one before the Dormition (Assumption) of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and no Meat, Oil, Eggs, or Milk during Lent.
Currently the Ember Day partial fast is a penitential option (not a requirement) under current law. No one is obliged to observe the Ember Days. However, it is a beautiful step on the road to recovery of our Catholic identity. We can do what we did in the past, such as pray for the children to be born in the next three months, for a bountiful harvest, for many holy priests to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, do alms-giving and other penitential and charitable acts, and prayer for the souls in Purgatory. Let us especially pray for our priests and our Bishop, Richard Garcia, for without priests, we do not have the Sacraments. Without our Bishop, we do not have communion with the Pope, the Vicar of Christ. Let these Ember Days be especially oriented for Priests and Bishops of the Diocese for the upcoming Year of the Priest.
All things have their season,and in their times all things pass under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.
A time to kill, and a time to heal.
A time to destroy, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh.
A time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather.
A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to get, and a time to lose.
A time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew.
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.
A time of war, and a time of peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (DRV)
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