Before the revision of the Catholic Church's liturgical calendar in 1969 (coinciding with the adoption of the Mass of Paul VI), the Church celebrated Ember Days four times each year. They were tied to the changing of the seasons, but also to the liturgical cycles of the Church. The spring Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the First Sunday of Lent; the summer Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Pentecost; the fall Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the third Sunday in September (not, as is often said, after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross); and the winter Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of Saint Lucy (December 13).
· An Ancient Practice: The adoption of Ember Days by Christians happened so early that Pope Leo the Great (440-61) considered the Ember Days (with the exception of the one in the spring) to have been instituted by the Apostles. By the time of Pope Gelasius II (492-96), the fourth set of Ember Days had been instituted. Originally celebrated only by the Church in Rome, they spread throughout the West (but not the East), starting in the fifth century.
· The Origin of the Word: The origin of the word "ember" in "Ember Days" is not obvious, not even to those who know Latin. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Ember" is a corruption (or we might say, a contraction) of the Latin phrase Quatuor Tempora, which simply means "four times," since the Ember Days are celebrated four times per year.
· Optional Today: With the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969, the Vatican left the celebration of Ember Days up to the discretion of each national conference of bishops. They're still commonly celebrated in Europe, particularly in rural areas. In the United States, the bishops' conference has decided not to celebrate them, but individual Catholics can and many traditional Catholics still do, because it's a nice way to focus our minds on the changing of the liturgical seasons and the seasons of the year. The Ember Days that fall during Lent and Advent are especially useful to remind children of the reasons for those seasons.
· Marked by Fasting and Abstinence: The Ember Days are celebrated with fasting (no food between meals) and half-abstinence, meaning that meat is allowed at one meal per day. (If you observe the traditional Friday abstinence from meat, then you would observe complete abstinence on an Ember Friday.) As always, such fasting and abstinence has a greater purpose. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, through these activities, and through prayer, we use the Ember Days to "thank God for the gifts of nature,. teach men to make use of them in moderation, and assist the needy."
Making known to God and others in what ways they have benefited my life (I Corinthians 4:7)