What are the Ember Days?
The Ember Days are special days for prayer and fasting during the liturgical year.
They correspond to the four seasons, and they focus our attention especially on the blessings of nature. On the Ember Days, we give thanks for blessings we’ve received, but also remind ourselves of our need for penance and grace.
The roots of the Ember Days go back to the Old Testament. The Book of Zechariah describes an ancient Jewish practice of fasting four times a year (8:19). Christians adapted this tradition into what was referred to in Latin as “Quatuor Tempora,” or “four times.” Somewhere through the centuries the Latin “tempora” became “ember” in colloquial speech, and thus the name “Ember Days.”
When are they?
There are four “sets” of Ember Days during the year. Each “set” is a successive Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. They occur every year near the beginning of the four seasons.
Spring: after Ash Wednesday.
Summer: after Pentecost Sunday.
Fall: after Sept. 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Winter: after Dec. 13, the Feast of St. Lucy.
A traditional way of remembering these dates is the rhyme “Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy” (or the more prosaic “Lucy, Ashes, Dove and Cross”).
In the 1969 revision of the liturgical calendar, the Ember Days are no longer formally observed. But many Catholics still observe them in their homes and parishes. It’s a fruitful practice and a great way to stay in tune with the liturgical year.
How do we celebrate the Ember Days?
On the Ember Days, we give thanks for the fruit of the Earth. Even though we don’t live in an agrarian society, it’s good for us to give thanks for the food we have such easy access to. We may not grow it ourselves, but we’re fed because of the work of others’ hands.
Fasting and abstinence
Fasting on the Ember Days reminds us to honor nature’s gifts by using them in moderation. (As G.K. Chesterton quipped, “We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them.”) At one time, fasting on the Ember Days was obligatory. Now, according to the Code of Canon Law, fasting and abstinence on the Ember Days is commended but not required.
Praying for priests
In the past, priests were ordained on the Ember Days. The laity would pray for the priests getting ordained on that day, and ask that God would send them good priests. The Ember Days still provide a great opportunity for us to pray for priests. In this day and age when priests are stretched thin yet called to heroically witness to the Gospel, they truly do need our prayers.
The Church has always tied together giving thanks and giving alms, and the Ember Days are no exception. They’re excellent opportunities to support the needy.
Prayers for the Ember Days
Antiphon: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and never forget all He hath done for thee.
V. Lord, Thou hast been our refuge.
R. From generation to generation.
Let us Pray: Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that as year by year we devoutly keep these holy observances, we may be pleasing to Thee both in body and soul. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
For God’s Blessings on Our Labors
O Lord, graciously look down upon Thy servants and upon the work of their hands, and do Thou, Who givest food to every creature, bless and preserve the fruits of the earth, that the needy may be filled with good things and that all may praise the glory of Thy bounty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
For Vocations to the Priesthood
Antiphon: Why stand ye all the day idle, go ye into my vineyard.
V. Ask the Lord of the harvest.
R. That He send laborers into His vineyard.
Let us Pray God, who willest not the death of the sinner, but rather that he be converted and live; grant, by the intercession of blessed Mary ever Virgin and of all saints, laborers for Thy Church, fellow laborers with Christ, to spend and consume themselves for souls. Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.
In Honor of Christ’s Betrayal and Passion
O God, Who for the world’s Redemption was pleased to be born, circumcised, rejected by the Jews, betrayed by the kiss of traitor Judas, bound with chains, led like an innocent lamb to sacrifice, and shamefully presented before Annas, Caiphas, Pilate, and Herod, accused by false witnesses, beaten with whips, buffeted, insulted, spat upon, crowned with thorns, smitten with a reed, blindfolded, stripped of Thy garments, fastened with nails to the cross and lifted up on high, reputed among thieves, made to drink gall and vinegar and wounded by a lance; oh, by these most sacred sufferings, which, unworthy as I am, I thus commemorate, and by Thy holy cross and death, deliver me, Lord, from the pains of hell, and deign to lead me where Thou didst lead the penitent thief, who was crucified by Thy side. Who, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, livest and reignest, forever and ever. Amen.
5x Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory be to the Father
Source: “Blessed Be God: A Complete Catholic Prayer Book.” Charles J. Callan, OP, S.T.M, P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1961