September Ember Days 2020 – confusion about the true dates

From a reader….


I’ve seen two sets of dates for the Ember Days this September.  I thought they were supposed to be in the week after Exaltation of the Cross?  So I say a tweet from Taylor Marshall who wishes that Fr. Cekeda was still alive so that he could explain it.  I’ll bet you can.


Here is his tweet.

Sometime these whippersnappers forget that there are still a few old priests around who know what is going on.     o{];¬)  

BTW… the Fr. Cekeda he mentioned was a Sedevacantist priest who died recently.  He wrote quite a bit about the liturgical changes perpetrated by and in the name of the Council.  The book he wrote about Novus Ordo had just about the best title ever devised for a book about the Novus Ordo: Work Of Human Hands.  May God be merciful to him. R.I.P.

Ad ramos.

Four times a year, roughly in keeping with the changing of seasons, we observe three penitential days, the Ember Days, a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.  I’ve written many times about the origin of “Ember” and what they are all about.  This post is offered simply to clarify when the September Ember Days fall.

The old rhyme is

Fasting days and Emberings be
Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.

A short version: Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy.

So, the autumn Ember Days should – traditionally – fall after Holyrood, which is the Holy Cross, or Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, which is fixed on 14 September.   However, 14 September slides around among the days of the week depending on the year.

In some places you might be seeing that today, 16 September, was Ember Wednesday.  Thus, 18 Friday and 19 Saturday would follow.  These are the first available Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after Exaltation of the Cross, right?  Ember Days, right?


But, as it turns out, it is more complicated than that.

Traditionally, that’s right.

Since time immemorial, certain books of Scripture were read from August through November.  The change in the books to be read fell on the 1st Sunday of the month.  However, the 1st Sunday of a month was considered the Sunday closest to the 1st day of the month, not necessarily the first Sunday within the month.  Hence, it was possible for the 1st Sunday of August to still be in July, the 1st of September to be in August, etc.

Here is a shot from the great site Divinum Officium with the rubrics set for pre-1955.

Notice that, this year, 30 August, the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, is the 1st Sunday of September!

So, the Ember Days in the pre-1955 calculation are just after the Exaltation of the Cross on a Monday, hence 16, 18 and 19.

Then, in 1960, John XXIII changed things around (yeah, big surprise, right?).  Henceforth, the 1st Sunday of the month was the actual 1st Sunday of the month, rather than the Sunday closest to the 1st day of the month.  In this screenshot of the calendar with the 1960 rubrics, you can see that the 1st Sunday of September is on 6 September, rather than pre-55 30 August.

John XXIII fixed the Ember Days of September to follow the 3rd Sunday of September, now fixed as the actual 3rd Sunday. See?

Hence, this year, 2020, in the 1960 rubrics  the 3rd Sunday of September is on the 20th, the 16th Sunday after Pentecost.  Hence, this year the Ember Days are on Wednesday 23, Friday 25 and Saturday 26 September.

According to Summorum Pontificum we use the calendar in force in 1962.

Yes, permissions have been given – quite rightly – to use the pre-55 Holy Week.   But that wouldn’t extend to the use of the pre-55 calendar for the Breviary and the Mass for the rest of the year.   Some will say that we should be flexible and that the Church can support a lot of variety.

Anyway… that’s what’s going on with the date of the Ember Days in 2020.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. tgarcia2 says:

    Good to know! Looks like one of the younger priests has it down ;) #futureisbright

  2. Gregg the Obscure says:

    the great liturgical resource website you mention is principally the work of the late Laszlo Kiss. may we all pray for the repose of his soul.

  3. ThePapalCount says:

    Our parish is marking the Ember Days this week.
    A beautiful tradition and spiritual gift restored in our parish. A brilliant idea
    to thank God for what has been and to ask His blessing on what is to come….the change of seasons and the sanctifying of the seasons is powerful. Catholic living as it should be.

  4. Fr. Z., correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the permission to use the Pre-1955 Holy Week granted to several parishes of the FSSP in 2018 by Ecclesia Dei was a privilege granted to those parishes only, and only with permission of their FSSP superior. [I didn’t say otherwise. I only said that permission was given.]

    As it is a principle of canon law that privileges are to be construed narrowly, this privilege does not extend to other priests, including those of religious orders using their traditional rites in accord with Universae Ecclesiae. [I didn’t say otherwise. I only said that permission was given. It is a principle of the interpretation of canon law that laws which place burdens on people are to be interpreted narrowly, strictly, so as to favor the person. Laws which grant favors are to be interpreted broadly, so as to favor the person. cf. Can. 36 §1. However, Can. 36 §2, concerns the limitation of administrative acts to those to whom they are granted. Privileges, however, can also be “immemorial”.]

    But there is nothing to stop other parishes (or congregations) using the EF from requesting this permission. This post is solely to avoid misunderstandings and the resulting conflicts between tradition-minded individuals and the priests who provide EF services for them. [Gosh thanks.]

  5. ex seaxe says:

    Wikipedia says: “But when the Vatican restored the Ember Days for the Personal Ordinariates, it assigned them to the traditional, earlier dates.”
    NB I have not verified that myself.

    [I had a look at the Ordo of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (USA). They have the Ember Days this year on 16, 18, and 19, that is, the way it is done in the Anglican Church. They also number their Sundays after Trinity Sunday rather than Pentecost. For them, this coming Sunday will be the 15th after Trinity Sunday while for the rest of us it will be the 16th Sunday after Pentecost.]

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  7. JesusFreak84 says:

    I wonder if we’ll ever see a blanket permission for pre-55; it’s not like the changes then weren’t controversial in their own day.

  8. Fr. Z,

    First thanks for publicizing my Francis book again!

    And you are absolutely correct about interpretations of burdens and favors.

    I wrote badly. What I meant was that a privilege applies to only the individuals to whom it is granted. Otherwise it would not be a privilege but a change in the law (i.e. affecting everyone).

    [Which is why I mentioned can. 36 §2.]

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