Tag Archives: Ember Days

Fasting to prepare for Christmas

The Four Men in the Fiery Furnace. Три отрока ...

Latin Catholics are accustomed to fasting once a year
at Lent. Historically speaking, there was a time when the tradition of fasting
was proposed a few more times a year than merely Lent, e.g., the Assumption fast, the Saints’ fast and the Advent

Liturgically speaking the time before any great feast of the Lord (i.e., Christmas & Easter), the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and
also of Mary (Assumption of the BVM) was preceded by a distinct time of preparation: prayer, fasting almsgiving.

In time, Catholics have relaxed some traditions and now they have become virtually obsolete. Think of the practice of Ember Days. Today, in fact, is the first of the three Advent Ember Days. You may have heard that the US bishops are encouraging the reinstitution
of abstinence on Fridays. Fasting and abstinence are different; do you know the
difference? What can we do to restore a reasonable practice of the Catholic faith that includes expanding our utilization of spiritual disciplines such as fasting? Can Catholics reinstitute the Ember Days in the praying of the Novus Ordo Liturgy?
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The crucible of Lent: the Embertide

Transfiguration GBellini.jpgIn the reformed Catholic Liturgy we hear little of the traditional days throughout the year given by the Church to pray in a more intense way and to fast in the light of the sacred Liturgy. Namely, Ember Days. Not only is it Lent but this week, Wednesday (today), Friday and Saturday, we have something extra added (at least we did, let me explain below): we offer to God the work and fruit of the season of spring and we ask God for blessings. In the old way of doing things deacons were ordained priests on Saturday. An intense sensibility of prayer and fasting make these days notable.

Catholics should always situation themselves in the context of the Liturgy (that is, Lauds, Vespers & Mass) with the minor though NOT incidental liturgical observances like Ember days that happen about quarterly in the calendar year. Before the promulgation of the Missal of Paul VI (the style of Mass we now have) there was a tradition of specifically gathering on three days, three times a year which correspond to the seasons of the year. In addition to what said above about the character of the Ember Days, one can also emphasize the purpose of these days as to place before the Lord our own struggle to live a life of holiness asking for the grace to continue without back-sliding (which is easy to do for many of us). The work to overcome our disordered concupiscence (conversion of morals) is difficult and excruciatingly painful at times. And to be honest, it’s only possible to advance in the spiritual life with the abandonment of self to God unreservedly. What the Church proposes is that we consider the Scripture narrative of the Transfiguration of the Lord (seen on the right by Giovanni Bellini) as an apt motif for our own desire to change for the better.
Even though the reflections offered at the New Liturgical Movement blog are within the perspective of the Missal of John XXIII (the 1962 Missal), it is worth noting what the two writers say about the Lenten Ember Days because the liturgical practice is correct and helpful for all of us.
I, for one, would love to see a reclaiming of the Embertide traditions if not in the actual restoration to the liturgical observance then in teaching the faithful through the normal channels of CCD, bulletin teaching and preaching. What is striking about the Embertide liturgy is the use of sacred Scripture: the number of readings increase thus giving a fuller plate of the word of God for our meditation.
Here is the post on the Ember Days in the Fall.
Let us ask Mary, Mother of God, refuge of sinners, to aid us with her prayers.

Ember Days at the start of Autumn

but not forgotten in Catholic practice are the observances for Autumn Ember
, the “Four Seasons.” Other ember days are prayed in
December (3rd week of Advent), Lent (after the 1st Sunday of Lent) and after
Pentecost but in its octave. The autumn ember days are observed on the
Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following the Triumph of the Holy Cross
, September 14. This year
the ember days are September 16, 18, & 19. Tradition has also called this
period of prayer, procession, fasting and partial abstinence the Michaelmas
Ember Days

given the proximity to the liturgical memorial of Saint Michael the Archangel
on September 29th.

Farmer's Market.jpg

The occasion for Ember Days are the seasons of the year.
As you would think, each season we give ought to give thanks to God for graces
received and the fruits of the harvest. Ember days are rich in theology and
culture going back a very long time in the Catholic Church, one can argue to
the very early Church where the first fruits were given to the Lord. One might also recall the Jewish customs of prayer and
fasting and purification in the autumn. Those with a strong liturgical bent will recall that before the “reform” of the
missal following the Second Vatican Council the Church had a richer and deeper
understanding of the nature of ember days: each day had their own Mass,
Scripture readings from both Testaments, processions and prayers. Today, ember days are all but forgotten save for a small number of people who bother to read ritual books and liturgical theology and who think these things have import for the contemporary life of the Church.

As we delve
more deeply into our Catholic faith and the various liturgical observances of
thanksgiving, conversion and supplication, we might consider spending time
during these ember days in gratitude to God for what He’s given for our earthly
sustenance asking Him for the grace of conversion. Additionally, I am reminded
with these ember gestures of the recent emphasis on the environment and ecology viz. the faith that Pope Benedict said last week: “
more than ever people must be helped to see in creation something more than a
simple source of wealth or exploitation in man’s hands. The truth is that when
God, through creation, gave man the keys to the earth, he wanted him to use
this great gift responsibly and respectfully, making it fruitful. The human
being discovers the intrinsic value of nature if he learns to see it for what
it really is, the expression of a plan of love and truth that speaks to us of
the Creator and of his love for humanity, which will find its fulfillment in
Christ, at the end of time. In this context it is important to reiterate the
close relationship between protection of the environment and respect for the
ethical requirements of human nature, because when human ecology is respected
within society, environmental ecology also benefits.”

the ember days more fully would allow for a renewed interest in praising God
for creation, the concern of humanity’s proper use of creation and our keen stewardship of nature for future generations.

Cf. “Order of Blessing on the Occasion of Thanksgiving for the Harvest” (Book of Blessings, nos 1007-1023) or in the 3rd volume of Fr Weller’s Roman Ritual. Two prayers from the Maronite book of blessings read:

May God bless + this fruit, those who bring it, present it, and share in it. May the mercy of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, come down upon those who labored to produce this fruit and those who were in any way associated with them. Praised be to God, now and for ever. Amen.


O Lord, your right hand blessed the few loaves of bread in the desert, and through the hands of the prophet Elijah you blessed the jar of wheat and the jug of oil in the house of the widow. May your blessing now come down, through my right hand bless + this house (granary or this wheat or grain) and all the food that it kept here. As you blessed the homes and the reserves of the just of old –Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, and David–shower your abundant blessings upon the yield of your worshipers. We praise you, now and for ever. Amen. 

O Lord, save your people and bless + your inheritance. Feed them, and carry them for ever.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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