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What are Ember days?

Four Seasons TreeEmber days, are three days at the beginning of each of the four seasons that the Church has traditionally set aside as days of fasting, abstinence, and prayer in thanksgiving for the blessings of the last season and in petition for the next.

Historically, it is likely that the Ember days were celebrated from the earliest days of the Church – after all, it is a tradition adapted from the Old Testament:

Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love truth and peace. (Zechariah 8:19)

Pope Gelasius, who was pope from the year 492-496, speaks of the Ember days (or in the Latin, the Quatuor Tempora, or four- times.) We know of their practice in Rome at this time, and the practice spread throughout the Church until they were officially prescribed by Pope Saint Gregory VII during his pontificate, 1073-1085.

 

When are the Ember Days?

Sant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria.

This old rhyme was long used to aid in remembering the dates of the Ember days. It is translated:

Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost are when the quarter holidays follow.

The dates of the Ember days each year can be figured from the dates of these feasts.

The Winter Ember days are the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following the feast of St. Lucy on December 13th.

The Spring Ember days are the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday the week after Ash Wednesday, in the first full week of lent.

The Summer Ember days fall on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Pentecost.

The Autumn Ember days fall the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the feast of the Holy Cross on September 14th.

It might be easier to just remember “Lucy, Ashes, Dove, and Cross.”

 

Practicing Ember Days

Our Lady of FatimaWhile no longer mandatory, it is nonetheless beneficial to voluntarily practice the observation of Ember days each year. It is one of many ways we can heed the words of Our Lady of Fatima:

“Sacrifice yourselves for sinners and say many times, especially when you make a sacrifice, ‘O Jesus, this is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.'”

St. Basil the Great says of fasting:

Fasting gives birth to prophets and strengthens the powerful; fasting makes lawgivers wise. Fasting is a good safeguard for the soul, a steadfast companion for the body, a weapon for the valiant, and a gymnasium for athletes. Fasting repels temptations, anoints unto piety; it is the comrade of watchfulness and the artificer of chastity. In war it fights bravely, in peace it teaches stillness.


The basic observance of fasting on Ember days is similar to Ash Wednesday or Good Friday - one primary meal and two lesser meals. On Ember Wednesday and Ember Saturday meat is be allowed in the main meal only. On Ember Friday the traditional practice of abstinence from meat is observed at all meals. Those who are unable for health or age reasons to participate in the full fast should perform some other penance.

While the fast is similar to that of Lent, there is a different focus to our prayers. Unlike the somber fasts of Lent, as we prepare for and participate in Christ’s suffering on the cross, the Ember days give us an opportunity to fast with greater joy. While there has certainly always been the component of penance for our sins and a resolve to do better in the coming season, the focus of thanksgiving for the gifts received in the previous season and the prayer of petition for a fruitful coming season is a very important part of the Ember days. Our hearts should be filled with joy at the thought of the great love and care Our Heavenly Father shows for His Children. While joyful music and celebration would be out of place on Good Friday, they are fitting in the celebration of the Ember days, even as we practice the virtue of fasting.

Praying in ChurchAnother important aspect of the Ember days, stemming from the practice of ordinations being held on Ember Saturdays for many years, is to pray for priests and for new vocations. In these days when our priests are so under attack both from the world and the devil, setting aside days each year to pray and fast for our priests is even more important than ever. While these intentions should be in all of our daily prayers, we do well to make special note on the Ember days.

Finally, let us not forget those less fortunate as we give thanks for our blessings. The Ember days have also always traditionally been days when the fruits of the harvest would be shared with the poor. Even though few of us have harvests to share, there are still many ways we can share what we have with those who have less, whether by donating money, or time, or even those things in our homes that we no longer use.

The world is drifting farther and farther away from God, and as it does it is becoming harder for us to live a Christian life. Incorporating the feasts and fasts of the Church, such as the Ember days, will help us to grow in grace and to keep our focus on Christ.

 


 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for April 22, 2021

Mary was raised to the dignity of Mother of God rather for s...

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April 22

 

Mary was raised to the dignity of Mother of God
rather for sinners than for the just, since
Jesus Christ declares that
He came to call not the just, but sinners.

St. Anselm

 
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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Theodore of Sykeon

Endowed with the gift of prophecy and miracles, on a second...

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St. Theodore of Sykeon

Born in the Roman Galatian town of Sykeon in Asia Minor, Theodore was the son of a woman of ill repute, who kept an inn along the imperial highway.

As a child, he was so given to prayer that he would often give up a meal to spend time in church. From an early age he shut himself up first in the cellar of his mother’s house and then in a cave beneath a disused chapel. Later, for a time, seeking to further escape the world, he sought solitude on a mountain.

On a pilgrimage to Jerusalem Theodore assumed a monk’s habit, and though only eighteen years of age, was ordained a priest by his own bishop. His life was most austere, wearing an iron girdle about his body and only sparingly partaking of vegetables.

Endowed with the gift of prophecy and miracles, on a second pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he obtained abundant rain after a severe drought.

Theodore founded several monasteries, and ruled as abbot in Sykeon. He was consecrated Bishop of Anastasiopolis, though he deemed himself totally unfitted. After ten years he succeeded in relinquishing his post and retired to Sykeon.

From Sykeon he was recalled to Constantinople to bless the emperor and the senate and there healed one of the Emperor’s sons of a skin disease, reputedly leprosy.

Theodore had a great devotion to St. George and did much to propagate devotion to him.

He died in Sykeon on April 22, 613.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the mountainous region of Trent in Germany, there lived a...

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The Robber Who Stole Heaven

In the mountainous region of Trent in Germany, there lived a notorious robber who made his living by bringing misfortune on others. His occupation being what it was, he would only increase his property by decreasing that of his victims.

One day, he was admonished by a local religious to change his course of life and thereby insure his eternal salvation. The only answer the robber gave was that for him there was no remedy.

"Do not say so," said the religious, "do what I tell you. Fast on each Saturday in honor of the Virgin Mary, and on that day of the week do no harm to anyone. She will obtain for you the grace of not dying in God’s displeasure.”

The robber thought to himself, “This is a small price to pay to insure my salvation; I will do as this holy man has prescribed.” He then obediently followed the religious’ advice, and made a vow to continue to do so. That he might not break it, from that time on he traveled unarmed on Saturdays.

Many years later, our robber was apprehended on a given Saturday by the officers of justice, and that he might not break his oath, he allowed himself to be taken without resistance. The judge, seeing that he was now a gray-haired old man, wished to pardon him.

Then the truly miraculous occurred. Rather than jump for joy thanking the judge for his leniency, the old robber, said that he wished to die in punishment of his sins. He then made a public confession of all the sins of his life in that same judgment hall, weeping so bitterly that all present wept with him.

He was beheaded, a death reserved for the nobility, rather than hanged. Then his body was buried with little ceremony, in a grave dug nearby.
Very soon afterwards, the mother of God came down from Heaven with four holy virgins by her side. They took the robber’s dead body from that place, wrapped it in a rich cloth embroidered with gold, and bore it themselves to the gate of the city.

There the Blessed Virgin said to the guards: "Tell the bishop from me, to give an honorable burial, in such a church to this dead person, for he was my faithful servant." And thus it was done.

All the people in the village thronged to the spot where they found the corpse with the rich pall, and the bier on which it was placed. And from that moment on, says Caesarius of Heisterbach, all persons in that region began to fast on Saturdays in honor of she who was so kind to even a notorious robber.

From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

In the mountainous region of Trent in Germany, there lived a notorious robber who made his living by bringing misfortune on others. 

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