The Ember Days
Fast and pray. Learn moderation in your use of the goods of the Earth. Repent of sins against Creation. Help the poor. Work for justice. Anticipate the coming Reign of Justice with penitential works of justice, peace, and the care of Creation.
Four times a year, the Church invites us to focus on
God's revelation of his love through the natural Creation
and to remember the poor and our duties of justice to
them. The four days are associated with the
transitions of the natural seasons of the year. The
Ember Days are "the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday
after13 December (S. Lucia), after Ash Wednesday, after
Whitsunday, and after 14 September (Exaltation of the
Cross). The purpose of these days of fasting and
abstinence, besides the general one intended by all prayer
and fasting, was to thank God for the gifts of nature, to
teach men (sic) to make use of them in moderation, and to
assist the needy." Ember
Days They were known in Latin as Jejunia Quattuor
Temporum -- the fasts of the four times of the year..
The word "Ember" is derived from the Anglo Saxon word
"ymbren", referring to a cycle of the year.
Embertide refers to the three days of
fasting. We speak of the Advent, Lenten,
Whit, and Michaelmas embertides (Winter, Spring, Summer,
A traditional English phrase to remember the dates is --
Saint Lucy, Ash Wednesday, and Pentecost, are when
the quarter holidays follow.
Or -- Lucy,
Ashes, Dove, and Cross.
practice of fasting four times a year is rooted in the
practice in ancient Israel of four annual fasts.
We received these observances as gifts from the ancient
Romans, who held celebrations each year at the turning of
the seasons. As Christianity became the predominant
religion, these pagan feasts were "baptized" as Christian
festivals. The traditional observances included fasting
and abstinence from meat, acts of charity towards the
poor, and processions
Good ways to observe these days are fasting,
attendance at Mass, going to Confession, "half-abstinence"
from meat (only once/day), and penitential works of
reparation, mercy, justice, and peace. Depending on
the weather, get outside and observe the glories of God's
Creation with your own eyes!
It is unfortunate that the praxis of these days has
fallen out of the general order of our liturgy in the
Catholic Church in the United States. The conference of
bishops left it up to individual bishops, and few if any
bishops of dioceses in the USA have the spirituality to
understand the importance of these days of penitential
prayer and praxis.
So it is up to us as individuals and our voluntary
associations to renew this praxis within the Church and
our communities. Certainly we have much to repent of
when it comes to sins against Creation and the poor. This
suggestion -- that we in the USA are guilty of persecution
of the poor and neglect of our duties towards the natural
Creation -- makes people uncomfortable, which is probably
why the Bishops ditched these observances.
A Modern Prayer for the
Tube Playlist for the Ember Days, curated by Bob
Gospel of the Poor -- These are meditations
taken from Holy Scripture, for spiritual reading (Lectio
Divina). To prepare them, I redacted biblical
passages regarding these key words: poverty, poor, widows,
orphans, foreigners/aliens, justice, oppression,
injustice, wealth, rich., These were then sorted by the
type of reading into five "books": Prophetic Oracles,
Wisdom Sayings, Commands, Psalms and Laments, and the
Traditions of Jesus. They are not intended for scholarly
research or apologetics, but solely for meditative and
contemplative reading (lectio divina).