Talking at dinner the other night, the subject of Ember Days came up.
Maybe you've heard the term.
Maybe you remember them yourself.
Maybe they're brand new to you.
So what are they? Since today happens to be an Ember Day, let's take a look.
The name Ember Days
comes from a corruption of the Latin term Quatuor Tempora, which means four times or four seasons, which are meant to be sanctified by the Ember Days.
The practice can be originally derived from pagan Roman invocations of their gods for protection and success in planting and harvesting.
As the Church has always done whenever possible, she sanctified the local custom, and used it as an opportunity for true prayer, gratefulness to God for His natural creation, and to emphasise the need for moderation in the use of that creation and the importance of almsgiving.
When are they and what do we do for them?
Although there are instructions, see Chapter 9, no. 394 of the GIRM, that "In the drawing up of the Calendar of a nation, the Rogation Days and Ember Days should be indicated, as well as the forms and texts for their celebration, and other special measures should also be kept in mind.", they have not been followed in most places. Thus historical calendars, and those used for the extraordinary form must suffice.
The Ember days are the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays of Four weeks throughout the year: The third week of advent, the first full week of Lent, the week after Pentecost, and the third full week of September.
These are days of penance and self-denial. Though the current laws of fast and abstinence do not include Ember Days, the former laws remain praiseworthy. They were as follows:
Fridays of Ember weeks were days of both fast and abstinence. Wednesdays and Saturdays were days of fast and partial abstinence. Additionally, the food omitted on these days, or the money saved, was generally given as alms.
Fasting, at a minimum, consists of taking one full meal in a day, and not more than two smaller snacks, which together don't come to a full meal. It permits drinking between these, but prohibits snacking throughout the ay.
Abstinence means refraining from eating the flesh of mammals and poultry. Partial abstinence means meat may be consumed at the one full meal and not otherwise.
Former laws on fasting and abstinence, though no longer obligatory, remain a good idea for those so inclined. Penance of any sort, but particularly fasting, can help root out self-centeredness, increase our discipline, atone for sins (ours and those of others)and turn aside wrath, aid the souls in Purgatory, express true love for God, assist in the conversion of sinners, and a host of other benefits. In times of great turmoil, as today, we should all consider additional penance.
Finally, the GIRM also noted days of Rogation. From the Latin rogare, Rogation days are times to beseech God, most especially to withhold His wrath at sin and to withhold calamities such as storms. Rogation days should fall on the 25th of April (major), and three days before the Feast of the Ascension (minor), and have been accompanied by processions and the singing of litanies.