embderThe 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, Fall).

A traditional English phrase to remember the dates is --

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

Or -- Lucy, Ashes, Dove, and Cross.

The 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 Ember Days

+ In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Come and be with us, Father and Creator,
as we dwell here in our Common Home,
journeying together with all of your creations
towards your reign of peace and justice.
We give you thanks and praise for the beauty and generosity of the natural Creation
which nourishes all creatures and witnesses to your glory.
We pray for abundant harvests and solidarity with the poor,
so that no one will lack what is necessary for life.

Come and be with us, Christ Jesus Redeemer,
in this time of grave need and peril.
All Creation is under assault by evil!
Everywhere there is burning, plundering, smashing, destroying, polluting and killing.
Apocalypse strides with impunity across our Common Home.
We take from the poor so we can give to the rich, and turn away from our duty of solidarity.
We kill with wars and fill the roads and seas with refugees.
We abuse your free gifts of Creation with selfishness, greed, and lust.
Forgive us for our actions and ideologies which create structures of sin that
call forth and empower these terrible crises.
Bring us to reconciliation and peace with ourselves, our neighbors, and with all Creation.

Come and be with us, Holy Spirit Sustainer, who comforts and heals.
Teach us to do works of mercy, justice, peace, healing, and solidarity.
Lead us in journeys of protection and rescue for all who are
at risk of hate, violence, war, and disaster.
Give us strength to reform our ways and manners of living
so that we bless and nurture all Creation.
Open our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts so that we see, hear, and understand all that is.
Guide us towards a way of life
that cares for people, cares for Creation, and has a care for the future.
Call forth leaders of spiritual and temporal vision and action, to guide us on our journeys. Inflame the hearts of those being called so that they
hear your guidance and understand its meaning.
Help us turn our backs on the false prophets
who lead us in paths of destruction, hate, waste, and violence.

These things we pray for, invoking the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe,  St. Michael and all the Archangels, St. Kateri Tekawitha, St. Francis of Assisi,  Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, and Saints Isidore and Maria, in Jesusí holy Name, Amen.

Readings and Collects for the Ember Days, Episcopal Church in the United States

Catholic Culture site on the Ember Days

You Tube Playlist for the Ember Days, curated by Bob Waldrop

Medieval Recipe for Ember Day Tart

Ember Days: What are they and where did they go?

The Glow of the Ember Days

A Modest Proposal to Pope Francis: Restore the Ember Days

The 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).