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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 January 21, 2021

All the strength of Satan’s reign is due to the easy-going...

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January 21

 

All the strength of Satan’s reign
is due to
the easy-going weakness of Catholics.


Pope St. Pius X


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Agnes

Even pagans were moved to tears at the sight of the radiant...

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St. Agnes

Agnes was born around 291 in a Christian, patrician family of Rome, and suffered martyrdom in the terrible persecution of Diocletian.

As a young maiden, she pledged herself to Christ and defended her virginity to the death.

Exceptionally beautiful, she turned down numerous suitors, but when she refused Procop, the Prefect’s own son, things became very complicated. Procop tried to win Agnes with gifts and promises but she answered: “I’m already promised to the Lord of the Universe. He is more splendid than the sun and the stars, and He has said He will never leave me!”

Angered, Procop  took  the maiden before his father, and accused her of being a Christian. The Prefect tried to turn her from her Faith first by cajolements, and then by placing her in chains, but she only rejoiced.

The pagan official, set on overcoming Agnes by any means, next had her taken to a house of prostitution but she was visibly protected by an angel.

Finally, Agnes was condemned to death, but she was happy as a bride about to meet her bridegroom. Even pagan bystanders were moved to tears at the sight of the radiant maiden going to her death, and begged her to relent, to which she retorted: “If I were to try to please you, I would offend my Spouse. He chose me first and He shall have me!” Then praying, she offered her neck for the death stroke.

St. Agnes is one of seven women besides the Blessed Virgin to be mentioned in the Canon of the Mass. She is the patron of chastity, young girls, engaged couples, rape victims and virgins. She is depicted holding a lamb as her name in Latin means “lamb”, “agnus”. But the name “Agnes” is actually taken from the Greek “hagne” meaning chaste, pure, sacred.

Agnes’ relics repose beneath the high altar of the Church of Sant’Agnese Fuori le mura, built upon the place she was originally buried. This church was built in her honor by the daughter of the Emperor Constantine, and is one of the oldest in Rome.  St. Agnes’ skull is in the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone at Piazza Navona.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him h...

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Mary and the Muslim

Don Octavio del Monaco was a wealthy citizen of 17th century Naples. Like many of his class, Don Octavius had several Muslim slaves in his household. These children of Islam were amazed at the kindness of their “master.” He fed and clothed them better than they received in their native land. In return, his slaves attended to their tasks with diligence, as Don Octavius did not over work them, but assigned them duties in keeping with their dignity as children of God.

If these Muslim slaves had any reason for complaint, it was the gentle persistence with which their master and his wife exhorted them to give up their false religion and become Catholics. Don Octavius even went so far as to invite the slaves to join his family in the chapel to worship the one true God with them!

Our story today is about one young slave in particular. His name was Abel, like the slain son of Adam and Eve. He felt drawn in a peculiar way to a lamp that burned in front of a shrine to Holy Mary. Abel would purchase the oil needed to keep the lamp lit from his own meager stipend. As he continued to practice this humble devotion, he would say, “I hope that this Lady will grant me some great favor.”

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him he must become a Christian. At first the Turk resisted. But she placed her hand upon his shoulder, and said to him: “Now no longer resist, Abel, but be baptized and called Joseph,” conferring on him a name that was very dear to her Immaculate Heart indeed.

On August the 10th, 1648, there was much rejoicing in Heaven, for on that day “Joseph” and eleven other Muslims converted to the Christian faith and were baptized. Their conversion was brought about by the kindness shown by Don Octavius and the special intercession of the Mother of God.

Our story does not end here. Even once this son of hers was safely baptized, Mother Mary delighted in visiting him. Once, after having appeared to him, she was about to depart. But the Moor seized her mantle, saying, “Oh, Lady, when I find myself afflicted, I pray you to let me see you.” In fact, she one day promised him this and when Joseph found himself afflicted he invoked her, and Mary appeared to him again saying, “Have patience", and he was consoled.

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

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him he must become a Christian.

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