September Ember!

A friend sent an email with a reminder about Ember Days.  These days were penitential in spirit.  They were also traditional times for ordinations.  The short mnemonic “Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy” can help you remember when they fall.

Today in the traditional Roman calendar is Feria Sexta Quattuor Temporum Septembris (II. classis), Ember Friday of September.

From my friend’s email:

Ember Days (from Latin Quatuor Tempora, four times) are the days at the beginning of the seasons ordered by the Church as days of prayer, fast, abstinence, mortification, and almsgiving. Although these days were definitely arranged and prescribed for the entire Church by Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), their real origin goes back to the early days of the Church at Rome. The Ember Days are specific to the West; the East does not know them.

In addition to prayer and fasting, another reason for the Ember Days is to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy.

The immediate occasion (for their origin) was the practice of the heathens of Rome who worked in agriculture. In the months June, September, and December, the Romans invoked their false deities for protection upon their fruits of the earth: in June for a bountiful harvest, in September for a rich vintage, and in December for the seeding.

The Church, when converting heathen nations, has always tried to sanctify any practices that could be utilized for a good purpose. At first, the Church in Rome had fasts in June, September, and December, but the exact days were not fixed. The Church, on these days, taught Christians to consecrate the seasons by means of fasting, abstinence, prayer, mortification, and almsgiving in order to invoke the blessing of the One and True God upon their crops by means of sun and rain in due season.

Additionally, following the example of Our Lady, who fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, [while I imagine Our Lady also to have done that, perhaps he meant Our Lord] the Church always prepared for special feasts and festivals by fasting (Saturdays were days of fast and abstinence in preparation for Mass on the Lord’s Day – Sunday). This helped Christians to prepare spiritually and to increase their life of virtue by subduing the flesh to the spirit: “Fasting has always been the nourishment of virtues. By voluntary mortifications, the flesh dies to its concupiscence and the spirit is renewed in virtue” (Pope St. Leo).

Taken from Catholic Encyclopedia and A Pulpit Commentary on Catholic Teaching: The Liturgy of the Ecclesiastical Year.

If you want more, I wrote about Ember Days HERE.

However, pace Johnny Mercer, is you is or is you ain’t Ember Friday?  There are some people who want to schedule the September Ember Days a week earlier, to follow Exaltation of the Cross when it falls early in a week.  For example, HERE.  But that is not the calendar we follow for the Extraordinary Form.  Moreover, the Ordo sent by both the FSSP and the SSPX have today as Ember Friday.

As far as the Novus Ordo is concerned, Ember Days are discussed in the General Norms for the Liturgical Year (GIRM). Tucked into one of the very last paragraphs, as if it were really important, we find:

394. Each diocese should have its own Calendar and Proper of Masses. For its part, the of Bishops’ Conference should draw up a proper calendar for the nation or, together with other Conferences, a calendar for a wider territory, to be approved by the Apostolic See.153

In carrying this out, to the greatest extent possible the Lord’s Day is to be preserved and safeguarded, as the primordial holy day, and hence other celebrations, unless they be truly of the greatest importance, should not have precedence over it. Care should likewise be taken that the liturgical year as revised by decree of the Second Vatican Council not be obscured by secondary elements.

In the drawing up of the calendar of a nation, the Rogation and Ember Days should be indicated (cf. above, no. 373), as well as the forms and texts for their celebration,155 and other special measures should also be taken into consideration.

The U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy did this in the 2007 edition of Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers (Rogation Days, pp. 142 ff.; Ember Days, pp. 164 ff.).

That doesn’t impress me very much, I’m afraid.

This is one of those instances in which the newer, post-Conciliar calendar reveals the myopia of the “experts” who cobbled together the liturgical reform.

By moving saints’ feast days around, they caused disruption with celebrations of name days, patronal feasts, etc.  By changing the liturgical seasons – especially by eliminating the pre-Lenten Sundays – they diminished preparation for Lent.  By eliminating Rogation Days and Ember Days, they removed crucial moments of petition from our schedule.

In sum, they didn’t consider that people’s lives were tied or could be tied to the rhythm of the Church’s year of grace.

If there were ever a way in which the older, Extraordinary Form could provide “enrichment” for the newer, Ordinary Form, this would be one way: reconsideration of the structure of the newer and the older calendar and how they fit together or don’t fit together.  I advocate the addition of new feasts in the older calendar and the reintegration of elements of the older calendar into the newer.

Don’t make some of these things mere suggestions.  Put them back into the calendar.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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


  1. CradleRevert says:

    “In addition to prayer and fasting, another reason for the Ember Days is to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy.”

    For as much as the Holy Father wants to emphasize the importance of being good stewards of creation, perhaps he should re-institute the mandatory observance of Ember Days rather than declaring some alleged new “Work of Mercy.”

  2. James in Perth says:

    Thanks for sharing your reflections on Ember and Rogation Days. I agree that it would be nice to reinstitute the traditional practice but unfortunately I don’t think many would pay attention.

    In remembrance of the repentance of the Ninevites, their ancestors, the members of the Chaldean Catholic Church (and also the Assyrian Church of the East) endure a strict three-day fast. This tradition, known as the Ba’utha of Jonah, is celebrated three weeks before the start of Lent. (“Ba’utha” is a fast distinguishable from “sawma” which is not as strict.)

    I was wondering how you would describe the Ba’utha of Jonah? Is this practice comparable to ember days?

  3. aquinas138 says:

    James in Perth,

    I think the Ember Days may share a bit with Ba’utha, but they are less strict and really mark the passage of time by marking the four seasons. I think Ba’utha shares more with Septuagesimatide as a pre-Lenten period of penance and preparation for the Great Fast.

  4. Latinmass1983 says:

    Ember Days, as mentioned are very specifically Western, and much more specific than that, they are very Roman in origin. Could it be possible that that, in itself, was a reason why the destroyers of the sacred Liturgy eliminated the Ember Days?

    I would not put it past them!

  5. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Reading up on next month’s saints, I’ve just read that we may have Pope St. Callistus I to thank for Ember Days.

Comments are closed.