September Ember Alert!

With the arrival of mid-September, and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14 Sept) we come around again to our Ember Days.  The September Ember Days this year are today, Wednesday 18 Sept, Friday 20 and Saturday 21.

More on Ember Days, HERE.

Keep in mind that Ember Days were times of penance.  Perhaps you could fast and abstain for some good intention on these days.  This is also the time of year when 40 Days for Life begins.

If memory serves, the newer Ordo – for the Novus Ordo – mentions something about the custom of Ember Days, but it does so in such a vague way that no one might be prompted to do anything with it.  I wonder: is there still a mention of Ember Days in the Ordo for the Ordinary Form?

20130917-172548.jpgI think I’ll get some tempura on Friday.

In the 16th c. Spanish and Portuguese missionaries settled in Nagasaki, Japan.  From their interest in inculturation and out of sensitivity for the ways of the people, they tried to make meatless meals for Embertide, which is a fast time.  They started deep-frying shrimp.  The Japanese ran with and developed it to perfection.  This is “tempura,” again from the Latin term for the Ember Days“Quatuor Tempora“.

In the meantime, do you know the mnemonic for the times of year of the Ember Days?

“Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Our Catholic Identity and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Anchorite says:

    Thanks for the post, as always. Is that a shot of the St. John Cantius calendar? Nice!

  2. CharlesG says:

    The idea of the liturgical reformers was to leave it to the local bishops’ conferences to enact special prayer seasons to local circumstances, so they were not necessarily tied to Europe seasons, etc. It was basically the idea of inculturation. Sadly, however, since the bishops’ conferences did practically nothing, the whole ancient tradition of Ember Days went out the window after Vatican II, like so much else of value in the Latin Rite. What they should have done is kept the Ember Days and Rogation Days as the default, and have allowed bishops’ conference to vary them to meet local conditions if they want to. Just another instance showing the lamentable lack of a strong voice on Bugnini’s Consilium on behalf of keeping the tradition and counterbalancing the reformers’ tinkeritis.

  3. RafqasRoad says:

    Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    This ties into the fast that those signed onto the Brown Scapular are called to observe fast till midday, then equivalent of one meal and two snacks. here’s a fantastic recipe for a South East Asian-style fish salad I think you may enjoy;

    Take a boned, skinned fillet of good firm white fish (I’ve also tried this with salmon and tuna with good results but that is up to the individual’s taste)

    an hour before serving, slice or dice your fish and marinate in fresh limejuice (lemon will work if lime is unavailable) and either salt or a good soy sauce. Now, for the salad, take raw beensprouts (the Asian type), julienned red capsicum or finely minced red chilli, finely minced ginger, finely minced garlic, shallot, spring onion or a little Spanish onion, fresh coriander, fresh mint and also fresh basil (the latter optional but a wonderful inclusion), a bit of brown sugar or palm sugar, plus diced fresh pineapple or finely sliced green mango or papaya. I am serving with sliced banana on the side, not too ripe, but not so unripe the tannins are unpalatable. You can serve with glass noodle or other forms of noodle. This is absolutely delicious and on the menu this evening!!

    And nothing, absolutely nothing surpasses a fine Sashimi platter!!!!!

    If fish is not your thing, finely sliced tomato (mix the coloured ones up if you wish) buffalo mozzarella or boccanccini, and torn fresh basil with a splash of balsamic vinegar (Extra Virgin Olive Oil is optional but for those who fast from oil and butter, the Balsamic – make sure it is a good one – works perfectly well. Then there’s that wonderful torn Italian Bread Salad with parsley, Spanish onion, fresh ripe tomato, dense slightly stale Italian bread and balsamic and/or olive oil. These are simple, easy meals that though they may seem exotic to the average Anglo palate, are the food of the people in their nations, rich and poor alike and not too fancy, in my thinking, for a day of fasting and penance. Now Beluga caviar…hmm…what would Fr. say??


    Soon to be South Coast Catholic (Aussie Maronite).
    PS: the Middle Eastern Christian tradition has a host of amazingly wonderful fare that more than meets ember day requirements – ‘Foul’ (spoken as ‘fool’) made with tons of garlic, fresh broad beans, loads of lemon, salt and parsley (water sauté if you want to avoid the oil), ‘Fattah’ (if you permit dairy and oil as part of your abstinence) made with fried Lebanese bread that is a little older, cooked till very tender chic peas (Garbanzo beans), fresh, sour, plain yoghurt (greek style will work best), loads of parsley, lemon and topped with sautéed golden pinenuts. Amazing!! A bowl of Fattah will do you for the entire day.

  4. Gregory DiPippo says:

    I did once see a Spanish-language Breviary printed for use in Spain, which had Ember Days in the very beginning of September.

    The idea of replacing the traditional Roman Ember Days with a suggestion (and nothing more) to do something more “inculturated” instead is absolutely absurd. At the time of the reform, they had been part of the Roman Rite for AT LEAST 1500 years. (As has been mentioned before many, many times, Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461) thought they were of apostolic origin.) In what does a “culture” consist if not in something that everyone in a particular society, like, say, the Church, has been doing for a really long time? It’s like banning hamburgers and hotdogs from the 4th of July in favor of something more “inculturated”, like shwarmas or kung-pow chicken.

  5. RidersOnTheStorm says:

    The link tells us: “The Didache, a work so old that it may actually predate some books of the New Testament, tells us that Palestinian Christians in the first century A.D. fasted every Wednesday and Friday.”

    Here in Éire the word in Gaelic for Friday is Aoine meaning fast and Wednesday is Céadaoin, from céad (“first”) + aoine (“fast”), i.e., the first fast of the week.

    As kids in the ’60s we would have fish (remember those days of abstinence from meat) on Fridays and most weeks we would have fish on Wednesday too. Thank God we were brought up in Wexford, a beautiful seaport/old Viking town, and still have great love of fish.

    It is good to observe the Ember Days and, in keeping with the above petition of those in difficult circumstances, I humbly ask people to say a Hail Mary for my youngest brother Fr. Richard Kelly, o.f.m., as he has just been diagnosed with bowel cancer and is about to undergo chemotherapy and radium treatment prior to surgery.

    Dia is Muire daoibh.
    (God and Mary be with ye)

  6. Fr AJ says:

    I don’t have my Ordo in front of me but I read it a few days ago and it says something like this: in former times Ember Days were celebrated, today, particularly in rural areas, a blessing of the harvest may be done from the Book of Blessings.

  7. Fr. Thomas Kocik says:

    Regrettably, Rogation days and Ember days did not survive the 1969 reform of the Roman Calendar, at least not in their universal and traditional observance. It is now (in the Ordinary Form) for the national episcopal conferences to arrange the time and plan for their observance according to the needs of the people of various regions. GIRM #394 ¶3: “In the drawing up of the Calendar of a nation, the Rogation Days and Ember Days should be indicated (cf. no. 373), as well as the forms and texts for their celebration, and other special measures should also be kept in mind” (GIRM #373: “Masses for Various Needs and Occasions are used in certain situations either as occasion arises or at fixed times. Days or periods of prayer for the fruits of the earth, prayer for human rights and equality, prayer for world justice and peace, and penitential observances outside Lent are to be observed in the Dioceses of the United States of America at times to be designated by the Diocesan Bishop”).

    Early last year the liturgical journal Antiphon (of which I was editor at the time) carried an article on the history of Rogation and Ember days and their potential applications in the New World Ord—err, Ordinary Form: Sr Esther Mary Nickel RSM, “Rogation Days, Ember Days, and the New Evangelization,” Antiphon 16:1 (2012) 21-36. I would be happy to send the PDF version to whomever requests it. (

  8. Fr. Thomas Kocik says:

    Fr AJ: You mean the Book of Non-Blessings. Phooey!

  9. jeffreyquick says:

    Cleveland, OH, Mary Queen of Peace (Pearl Rd, Old Brooklyn)
    Ember Weds. EF Mass at 6 tonight with full Gregorian Propers. Second Latin Mass there since The Old Days

  10. Supertradmum says:

    No offense, but is not part of abstaining and fasting to have simple meals? I would classify tempura as a simple meal in some parts of the world, but shrimp in some places would be a luxury item and very pricey. To keep in the spirit of the feast, one should keep in mind that simplicity may mean tuna, eggs or cod. Shrimp is not expensive here, but we are having cod today. There has been NO mention of ember days by anyone here in Ireland, not even the TLM priests to my knowledge. Of course, many people keep the traditional Byzantine abstinence days of no meat on Wednesday or Friday. The ember days are a great reminder of the ebb and flow of life. I grew up in rural areas where the ember days and rogation days really gave a spiritual dimension to daily life.

  11. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    In Australia, and attenuated form is observed:

    That’s more than we do here in the U.S.

  12. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    Supertradmum’s point is something I have sometimes wondered about. Many years ago, I decided to try fasting on bread and water on Fridays every week. The plan went well at first, lots of KFC biscuits and bottled water. No problem. But after awhile, my thoughts turned to planning the most scrumpt-deeli-umptious fare within the bread-and-water category that I could devise. On the day that I had raspberry-infused tonic water and a pan au chocolate for lunch, it hit me that my decision-making had moved into “letter of the law, not spirit of the law” land, and that it was pointless to continue in that way.

    Holy Mother Church does not oblige her children to choose simple, plain fare on fast days, but to do so would seem to be very much in keeping with the spirit of penance involved in keeping a fast. However, a fast is a fast, and each one must decide for himself or herself what they are able to do and how far they are willing to go. I suppose we all hope to grow in this area.

    May God bless us all, each and every one!

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    All the dishes mentioned by RafqasRoad are simple dishes. Depending on where you live, those are standard ingredients. The only thing that seemed exotic and pricey was the pine nuts, and I think all Lebanese folks tend to include some of those in every meal. (If you buy the big jar, it’s probably not nearly as pricey.) Heck, my mom makes Lebanese food, and there was never a woman born who was less anxious to do complicated stuff in the kitchen. (Albeit she leaves out the pine nuts.)

    Something like a McDonald’s fish filet is a lot more complicated, because you can’t possibly duplicate the Mickey D cooking processes at home, and grinding, squooshing, molding, and breading fish into frozen cookable filets would be time-consuming. :)

    Actually, if you read the Rules of monastic orders from the Middle Ages, there’s a fair amount of time spent on what the monks should be eating as penitence-type food, and how sometimes it’s really appropriate for the abbot or the infirmary guy to prescribe treats to people who need them or ask for them, and the monks are enjoined to ask for them if they need them. And not just for sickness or digestion problems, either; sometimes it’s just time for a mental health treat or even a day off.

  14. Rellis says:

    i had an interesting conversation about ember days a few years back with a senior priest in the diocese of providence. he told me that back in the late 50s and 60s, no one paid the least amount of attention to ember days up there. friday was no meat as usual, of course, but it was completely abandoned as a penitential period.

    and that was when bishop mcvinney was there. he voted against sacrosanctum concilium and later was the #1 voice in the U.S. against communion in the hand. so the diocese was hardcore back then.

    he didn’t even remember what rogation days were. people did fridays, lenten W/F/S, and little else food-wise.

    this may be an example of a past we’re not so much recovering as rediscovering.

  15. asperges says:

    Ember Wed of Sept was celebrated in full yesterday evening at our EF Mass. The gospel (Mark 9) sees Christ explaining to the puzzled disciples, who had failed to drive them out by ordinary means, that the only way to caste out certain demons was by prayer and fasting. Likewise we need to note this for our own needs and failings. I was very struck by this thought.

Comments are closed.