OBSERVING THE EMBER DAYS By Br. Joseph Brom, SJC
The Ember Days are ancient days of fasting and penance in the Church which took place on a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday around the beginning of each season. The first record of them is attributed to Pope St. Callistus I in 222 AD (Earlier than the celebration of Ash Wednesday, Advent, or even Christmas on December 25th). They were likely a result of the Church taking over pagan festivals marking the harvests of the first fruits of grain (June), the mature grapes (September), and olives (December). These are also the three crops used in the Sacraments. The Church saw an opportunity to set aside time at the beginning of each calendar season to fast and to ask God to forgive their sins.
Since they were related to the harvest, they were also times of prayer for vocations and for priests (ordinations usually took place on Ember Saturdays): ““The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Mt 9:3738).
The Ember Days were never formally abolished and the current Missal still asks that Bishops Conferences set aside Ember Days in the year, though it appears that no conferences have. (GIRM 394)
We ask you to join the Canons Regular in observing the Ember Days starting with the Lenten Ember Days on March 4th, 6th, and 7th by observing fasting and abstinence on these days and to pray for vocations. The Canons Regular use this prayer: Lord, inspired by what you once said, “Pray that the Lord of the harvest may send out workers in the harvest,” we pray for an increase in vocations to the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. Amen.