Enriching Spiritual Experience of Ember Days
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 states, “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant and, a time to uproot the plant…” The inspired writer of this biblical passage provides several more examples of how there’s a “time for everything”. But the planting/harvesting analogy is especially apropos. The Catholic Church celebrates feasts and seasons throughout the liturgical year. While feasts like the Transfiguration of the Lord and Saint Nick’s Day are still popular, some feasts have fallen out of practice in recent years.
One of the more enriching traditions the Catholic Church offers is Ember Days. These special days may not be official holy days of obligation, but they offer a unique opportunity for practicing Catholics to deepen their faith and connection with God. Ember Days occur four times a year, linked with the changing seasons and provide us with a chance to give thanks to God for nature and work while seeking His blessings.
A Seasonal Tradition
Ember Days are a cyclical observance that takes place four times throughout the year. These days, which fall on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, occur the week following specific feasts in the liturgical calendar:
After the Feast of Saint Lucy
After the First Sunday of Lent
After the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
The significance of Ember Days lies in their connection to the changing seasons, emphasizing our need to align our spiritual lives with the natural world. And to give God thanks for the created world.
What to Do During Ember Days
Ember Days involve a combination of religious practices designed to foster a deeper connection with God and a spirit of penance. Here’s what you can do during Ember Days:
Abstain from Meat: On Ember Days, Catholics are encouraged to abstain from meat as an act of penance and self-discipline. This sacrifice serves as a reminder of the importance of fasting and abstinence in the Catholic tradition.
Fast: Fasting is a key aspect of Ember Days. Traditionally, fasting on Wednesday and Saturday, and fasting and abstinence from meat on Friday, is observed. Current fasting norms in the United States permit one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together do not equal a full meal.
Increased Prayer: Ember Days are an excellent time to intensify your prayer life. Set aside additional time for personal prayer, attend Mass if possible, and participate in the sacraments to seek God’s blessings and guidance.
Why Celebrate Ember Days?
Ember Days have a rich history within the Catholic Church. They originated in the early Church as an attempt to Christianize pagan seasonal celebrations related to nature and agriculture. Pope Gelasius I, in 494 A.D., enhanced their significance by decreeing that the sacrament of Holy Orders should be granted on Ember Saturdays, providing an opportunity for believers to align their aspirations with the upcoming priests during a form of seasonal spiritual retreat.
Ember Days also align with the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph #2043), which emphasizes the importance of asceticism and penance to prepare for liturgical feasts, as well as the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church.
Here are some interesting facts about Ember Days to deepen your understanding of this tradition:
Each day has a unique focus: Wednesday remembers Judas’ betrayal, Friday commemorates the crucifixion, and Saturday is a remembrance of the tomb
The penance involves fasting on Wednesday and Saturday and fasting and abstinence from meat on Friday
Ember Days have been observed for centuries but became optional in 1966, with local bishops having discretion on their observance
Ember Days may have fallen out of practice in recent years, but they offer a meaningful way for practicing Catholics to connect with their faith and the changing seasons. By participating in acts of penance, prayer, and almsgiving during Ember Days, Catholics can renew their commitment to God and appreciate the beauty of nature and work. Whether you’re a seasoned Catholic or someone looking to enrich your faith, consider embracing Ember Days as a time of reflection and devotion in your spiritual journey.