September Ember Day confusion

Some people think the Ember Days were last week.

Some people think they are this week.

In the different versions of the Ordo I have the September Ember Days beginning tomorrow.

So… anyone?

Usually the Ember Days follow the 3rd Sunday in September.  Sunday 20 September was the third Sunday of September.  Therefore the Ember Days ought to be this coming Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.


On the other hand, some people say the Ember Days fall on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.  That would make the Ember Days last week.


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  1. JohnMa says:

    My missal states they fall in the week of the first Sunday after the Exaltation of the Cross. This year, that would be Sept. 23, 25, and 26.

  2. Geremia says:

    According to the Latin Mass Society of England & Wales’s ordo, they are the 23rd, 25th, and 26th of September 2009. I have never heard of the 3rd Sunday rule, but apparently the Latin Mass Society of England follows it…

  3. So even in the comments people are revealing different dates.

  4. I repeat what I said a week or so ago – the 2009 calendar on the FSSP web page lists them as being this week. And my Baronius Press missal says, on page 827 (SP edition), that they are “always after the third Sunday in September (Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross).”

  5. JustDave says:

    My family being new to Ember Days observed them last week.

    Oh Well.


  6. As I understand it, the confusion comes from a change made at the time of the 1962 missal in the way the first Sunday of the month is calculated. In all contemporary reckonings, the first Sunday of the month is the first Sunday in the month, but the former custom was the Sunday of the first week of the month. Under the old reckoning, August 30th was the first Sunday of September, and therefore the 3rd Sunday of September would have been September 13th. That means that in a year prior to 1962 in which August 30th was a Sunday, the Ember days would have been Sept 16, 18, & 19. But since the 1962 rule for determining the first Sunday came into play, the September ember week often comes a week later, so that the natural association with Holy Cross Day (which was always coincidental) is broken.

  7. I made the mistake of thinking they were last week…until I read carefully that it follows the Sunday following the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Had the Exaltation fallen on Wednesday or Thursday of last week, I don’t think there would have been any confusion.

    It is clear to me now, that it begins tomorrow.

  8. Londiniensis says:

    But Father, we have already had this conversation, with copious references to the literature, following your post on 11th September. The two comments by Miles Dei gave chapter and verse.

  9. Rellis says:

    Agreed with Londiniensis. This is pretty simple. The Ember Days were always the Wed, Fri, and Sat after the third Sunday of Sept. The reckoning of the first Sunday in Sept. changed in 1961. Under the new reckoning, this is the first Sunday in the month. Under the old reckoning, it was the first Sunday closest to the first of the month.

    “Holy Cross” was only a rough rule of thumb.

  10. aquinas138 says:

    The September Ember Days follow the Third Sunday, as you can see not only in the rubrics, but that the Matins lessons are found “Infra hebdomadam III Septembris.”

  11. Mary G says:

    In Australia, we have 2 Ember Days each year – March 1 and September 1. Obviously there are different rules for different countries.

  12. Dr. Lee Fratantuono says:

    Yes, it’s a simple explanation. “Dominica III Septembris” in the 1961 Codex Rubricarum is always the literal third Sunday of September, while in the pre-1961 system it was the figurative third Sunday, which meant that this year the Third Sunday of September was 30 August according to the pre-1961 rubrics and the Ember Days were last week.

  13. Dr. Lee Fratantuono says:

    Err, the First Sunday, I meant, was 30 August.

  14. Mike Morrow says:

    I have an old all-Latin ORDO for 1962. ORDOs (at least from B. Herder’s Book Co.) of that era were almost 400 pages long, in hand missal size, because they contained two 100-page sections: (1) The “Rubricae Breviarii” from the Missale Romanum at the beginning, and (2) Regional information listing almost all the clergy and their station for several dioceses at the end. The ORDO was given to me by the assistant pastor of the parish where I was an altar server at the time, and has an imprimatur of 15 September 1961. I treasured it and my old missal after obscene post-Vatican II transmogrifications began creating Newchurch in late 1965, driving away so many of the youth. End of tangent!

    In 1962, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross was on the Friday (9/14) before the third Sunday (9/16), and the Ember Days were Wednesday (9/19), Friday (9/21), and Saturday (9/22).

    Thus, in 1962 and in most years, ORDO designated Ember Days satisfied *both* the ancient formula of “Ember Days fall on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross” *and* the revised formula of “Ember Days follow the 3rd Sunday in September.”

  15. Mike Morrow says:

    I should also have commented that the wording of Fr. Z’s 2009 ORDO for the Wednesday Ember day is identical to the wording for that day in my 1962 ORDO.


  16. Fr Augustine Thompson OP says:

    They are this week, and those quoting the revised 1961 Calendar (which is that followed, obviously, in the 1962 Missal), are correct.

    When I posted my “Ordo” (calendar, really) for the Dominican Rite according to the practice of 1961 at the beginning of this year, there was, at Dominican Liturgy (, a long comment discussion about my “error.”

    For those who want a Dominican Rite calendar for this year, the link is here:

  17. C. says:

    Perhaps the original calculation can be restored at some point.

    It just seems right to fast immediately after the Exaltation of the Cross and Seven Dolours.

  18. David2 says:

    Mary G,

    I don’t understand your comment. I’m in Australia and my parish (FSSP) is observing the September Ember days on 22, 25 and 26 September, according to the custom of the universal Church.

    March 1 and September 1 are both ferias in the Novus Ordo calendar, and under the Traditional Calendar, September 1 is the commemorations of St Giles, and the 12 brothers. I can’t find any relevant modifications for Australia in either calendar.

    I don’t think the Novus Ordo really has Ember days as such, but I recall that there was some practice of having “quasi-Ember days” such as is suggested by you, in March and September. But this post is about true Ember days according to the Traditional Calendar, which are observed on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of Ember Week. Ember weeks occur for times in the liturgical year (Latin: Quatuor Tempora), even in Australia.

    But in summary, the correct observance under the 1962 Calendar is 22, 25 and 26 September, for the reasons set out by other commenters above.

  19. David2,

    Mary G’s comment makes perfect sense. In the calendar followed by the bulk of the Latin church, there are no universal ember days, however each diocese, province or country is free to establish ember days. The bishop of Portland, Oregon, for example, has established three ember days per year (Advent, Lent and Fall) as days of penance. Nationally, the US bishops have established January 22nd as a day of penance and prayer in reparation for sins against innocent life.

    In the Latin Church, only communities using the Extradordinary Form of the Roman Rite and other traditional usages such as the Anglican Use follow the traditional ember days. But the ember days celebrated in places like Australia and Portland, Oregon are also “real” ember days.

    C., actually wouldn’t it make more sense to fast before Holy Cross Day and Our Lady of Sorrows? That’s the usual Catholic pattern, fast then feast.

  20. Henry Edwards says:

    Plainly, all this stuff about the 3rd Sunday of September, the Exaltation of the Cross, etc. is wrong-headed, and has been for about 15 centuries.

    The fall ember days should the Wednesday-Friday-Saturday following the fall equinox. Voila, Sept. 23-25-26 this year.

  21. Miles Dei says:

    In the prior post about Ember Days, I listed the two rubrics (ante & post 1961) that determined the first and suceeding Sundays of a given month. However, the rubrics themselves do not indicate when the Ember Days should be celebrated. To find this, one either has to look in their breviary or missal which will generally list them within the 3rd week of September or somewhere within the Tempus Per Annum.

    Most altar missals, including those available at and, include a section entitled “DE ANNO ET EIUS PARTIBUS.” Within this section is a subsection for the Ember Days, “Quatuor Tempora,” which explains how to determine when the Ember Days throughout the year fall. The earlier (pre-1961) states the September Ember Days fall after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross; the later (post-1961) states the September Ember Days fall after the third Sunday of September. In reality, both of these state the September Ember Days should fall within the third week of September because the Exaltation of the Holy Cross would always fall in the third week according to the older rubric for determining the Sundays of a month. Below are both descriptions:

    pre-1961: “Quatuor Tempora celebrantur quarta et sexta Feria ac Sabbato post tertiam Dominicam Adventus, post primam Dominicam Quadragesimæ, post Dominicam Pentecostes, post Festum Exaltationis sanctæ Crucis.”

    1961: “Quatuor Tempora celebrantur quarta et sexta feria ac sabbato post tertiam dominicam Adventus, post primam dominicam Quadragesimae, post dominicam Pentecostes, post dominicam tertiam septembris.”

  22. David2 says:

    Steve Cavanaugh & Mary G,

    Mea culpa. My apologies. I just discovered that in 2008, the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference had established the first Fridays of March and September as Ember Days in the Novus Ordo Calendar for Australia. When I attended the Paul VI Mass regularly, the custom was simply not observed – I’d never heard of Ember Days outside the Extraordinary Form. My understanding was that on February 17 1966, by his decree “Paenitemini” Pope Paul VI excluded the Ember Days as compulsory days of fast and abstinence for Catholics. The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar (Novus Ordo), are pretty vague, leaving it all up to the local Bishops’ Conference. Aparrently, those following the new calendar in Australia were directed to make reparation for global warming this year.

    Since 2007, I have been frequenting the sacraments almost exclusively according to the liturgical books in force in 1962, and I was not aware of the relatively recent provision of the ACBC with respect to Ember Days in the Paul VI Mass in Australia. They had fallen into disuse, and as far as I can tell, have only recently been revived by the ACBC in a much less stringent form.

    However, the topic of this post was confusion over the calculation of the traditional Ember Days according to the calendar observed when using the 1962 Missale Romanum. So I suppose it is as well to clearly distinguish the ‘old’ from the ‘new’ Ember Days. There can be no confusion about the dates of the Aussie NO Ember Days. Likewise, questions regarding the practice observed when using the 1962MR have only arisen because the method of calculation of dates was changed in the early ’60s.

  23. Denis Crnkovic says:

    Some personal history: There was apparently confusion about this in the early/mid 1960s. I recall coming home from St Anthony’s Parochial Grade School for lunch one Wednesday in the fall, c.1963. My mother had prepared the usual large lunch fare (if I recall correctly, sausage, potatoes and green beans) for the seven of us. As she put the platter of kielbasa on the table, my older sister said with some minor horror that Father Waldron had reminded them during morning religion class that today was a day of abstinence. My mother was quite surprised, answering “No, Ember Days are next week.” At the time I thought she had just forgotten, or was mistaken, but now I see whence the confusion may have arisen. If in fact she was reckoning dates from her own life-long experience, and if the rules had changed, she surely might have mixed up the dates. My mother was practical: we ate the sausage in any case, since it would have been worse to waste the food and there was no time to make lunch anew. If I remember right, my mother did not have lunch that day and she made vegetable soup for my father for supper when he came home from work.

  24. Deacon Nathan Allen says:

    One more reason to hope for a unified Roman calendar with the Ember Days restored, the “tempus per annum” innovation abandoned, and NONE of the solemnities transferred to the following Sunday!

  25. Jordanes says:

    My 1961 St. Pius X Missal says, “The Ember Days in September do not necessarily follow the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, but are kept on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following September 14, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.”

    If we take that literally, that means they should have been last week. But perhaps it means they fall during the week of the Sunday following September 14? If so, they would be this week.

  26. Emilio III says:

    Just like people with two clocks can never be sure what time it is, people with two calendars are bound to be confused. Since I have only one Ordo, I didn’t realize there was a problem — at least not that problem.

    Fr. Z, since the typography in your sample seems identical to mine, I suspect it’s the same. My copies (both pdf and print) have “October” in the header rather than “September”. I can imagine the debates between 25th century archeologists wondering how come sometimes in the Dark Ages October had 61 days…

  27. “Comment by Steve Cavanaugh — 22 September 2009 @ 8:17 pm”

    This comment appears to explain it all for me. I am now content.

  28. Gregory DiPippo says:

    Mr. Edwards,

    The new system instituted by John XXIII has nothing to do with the equinox. When the first Sunday of September occurrs on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th, the old system and new system are identical. The dating of the other three sets of Ember Days was not changed; the Lenten Ember Days are always BEFORE the spring equinox, those of Pentecost are always before the summer solstice, those of Advent are often before the winter solstice. Or has the Church been quadruply wrongheaded for 15 centuries?

  29. Henry Edwards says:

    I hope you’re pulling my leg. Surely you didn’t really think I was serious about the fall equinox determining the fall ember dates? Did you? (My remark about everyone being wrong for the past 15 centuries was supposed to be the tip-off.)

    But if I actually “gotcha”, let me — as a Divine Office devotee, though certainly a rank amateur compared to you — try to make amends by thanking you for and bringing to WDTPRS readers’ attention your absolutely marvelous NLM series on the history of reforms of the Roman Breviary. Everyone:

  30. Henry Edwards says:

    Mr. DiPippo, (as I intended it to read)

    I hope you’re …….

  31. stpetric says:

    Coming into the Catholic Church from Anglicanism, I learned the Ember Days to be the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after: 1) St Lucy (Dec 13); 2) The 1st Sunday in Lent; 3) The day of Pentecost; and 4) Holy Cross. Sometimes abbreviated to Lux, Crux. Lent, Pent!

    I think that’s when they were observed in medieval England; they may have been calculated differently on the Continent — and that might account for the differences we find today.

  32. Gregory DiPippo says:

    Mr Edwards,

    I confess, you got me. Please accept my apologies. I might have been less obtuse if I weren’t reading and commenting at 2am. I am glad you are enjoying the series over on NLM. The alterations made to the September Ember Days (and some other things) will be discused in full in upcoming articles in the series. Best regards!

  33. Christophorus says:

    With all due respect — I’m always amazed at the responces about rubrics by people who don’t read them. The reason they’re different is that the rule changed with the 1960 rubrics.

    From De Anno et eius Partibus (Missale Romanum)

    Quatuor Tempora (vetus – Pius XII)
    Quartuor Tempora celebrantur quarta et sexta Feria ac Sabbato post tertiam Domenicam Adventus, post primam Domenicam Quadragesimae, post Domenicam Pentecostes, post festum Exaltationis sanctae Crucis.

    Quatuor Tempora (novus – Bl John XXIII)
    Quatuor Tempora celbrantur quarta et sexta feria ac sabbato post tertiam dominicam Adventus, post primam dominicam Quadragesimae, post dominicam Pentecostes, post dominicam tertiam septembris

  34. Chris: post dominicam tertiam septembris

    The September Ember Days are celebrated “after the third Sunday of September”.

    Sunday 20 September was the third Sunday of September.

    Therefore the Ember Days ought to be Wednesday 23 (yesterday), 25 Friday (tomorrow) and 27 Saturday.

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