Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ember Days

This week on Wednesday (September 24), Friday (September 26), and Saturday (September 27) we observe the Ember Days of Autumn - referred to as the Michaelmas Embertide. The Embertide are days of fasting to sanctify the season. Jennifer at Wildflowers and Marbles has written a very thorough post which details the history and meaning behind Ember Days in the Catholic Church. It includes quite a compilation of resources to check out as well. One specific resource I found fascinating is the chapter on Ember Days and Rogation Days from Fr. F. X. Weiser's Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs which Jenn has graciously made available on line at Feast and Feria. In addition to that chapter there are many other Ember Day resources there.

A Continual Feast provides a brief explanation of Ember Days:

Ember Days occur in the Catholic tradition four times a year, at the beginning of each of the four seasons of the year. (The word "Ember" apparently derives from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "circuit".) They are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following the Feast of St. Lucy (for winter); following the first Sunday of Lent (for spring); following Pentecost (for summer); and following the Feast of the Holy Cross (for fall).

These three days are set apart for some degree of fasting or abstinence from meat, and for prayer, to sanctify each of the seasons. Ember days have been observed since ancient times; we know they were already customary of the time of St. Augustine (AD 354-430), and it is said that they go back to the time of the Apostles. They may well in fact derive from the Jewish tradition, in which there were four yearly fast periods.

With the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969, the Vatican left the celebration of Ember Days up to the discretion of each national conference of bishops. They're commonly celebrated in Europe, particularly in rural areas. In the United States, the bishops' conference has decided not to celebrate them, but individual Catholics can and many still do, because it's a nice way to focus our minds on the changing of the liturgical seasons and the seasons of the year.

Because the observance of the Ember Days is not as universal as it once was, we wanted to take some time this week to share ideas for these seasonal days of our liturgical year and help you become more familiar with incorporating them into your home. Watch for additional Ember Day posts this week which will look at food customs, the fasting and abstinence guidelines, and some sample menus.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this info with us. I was not to familiar on the history of Ember days and I am excited to introduce this to my family.

  2. Yes, thank you...I know I'm five years later, but I am a cradle Catholic and I have never heard of Ember days, at least I don't think I have lol Very interesting! You all are so creative and amazing..thank you for this site..i know its a collaborative effort on everyone's part.