23 February 2024

How to… Observe Ember Days

An explanation of the traditional way of observing Ember Days. Some Bishops Conferences are 'encouraging' their observance. Why 'encourage'? It's within their remit to reimpose them!

From the Catholic Herald

The Ember Days are four sets of three seasonal days of prayer, fasting and abstinence. They fall equidistant in the cycle of the year and each of them contains a Wednesday, Friday and a Saturday of the same week. On these days, Catholics traditionally fast as they would on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, except they are permitted to eat meat as part of the main meal on the Wednesday and Saturday.

The Lenten Embertide begins today. It falls during the week following the First Sunday of Lent. The next will be the Pentecost Embertide in the week after Pentecost, followed by the September Embertide in the week following the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (14 September). Finally, the Advent Embertide will occur in the week following St Lucy's Day (13 December).

Such Ember Days, also known as the “fasts of the four seasons”, were said to have been introduced into England by St Augustine of Canterbury as a way of thanking God for the gifts of nature and to cultivate the virtues of moderation and prudence in the use of worldly goods. In Catholic England, there was a verse to help people remember when they fell: “Fasting days and Emberings be Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and [St] Lucie,” and a shorter mnemonic that went: “Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy.”

Traditionally, Embertides have been seen also as opportune moments to prepare prayerfully for ordination of diocesan clergy.

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