Life & Soul

How to… Observe Ember Days

Ember days don't actually have anything to do with embers

The Ember Days are four sets of three seasonal days of prayer, fasting and abstinence. They fall equidistant in the cycle of the year and each of them contains a Wednesday, Friday and a Saturday of the same week. On these days, Catholics traditionally fast as they would on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, except they are permitted to eat meat as part of the main meal on the Wednesday and Saturday.

The next Embertide comes this month. It usually comes during the week following the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14) – so this year, the September Ember Days fall on Wednesday, September 18, Friday, September 20 and Saturday, September 21. After that, the next Embertide will be in the third week of Advent, then the first full week of Lent and the week following Pentecost Sunday.

Such Ember Days, also known as the “fasts of the four seasons”, were said to have been introduced into England by St Augustine of Canterbury as a way of thanking God for the gifts of nature and to cultivate the virtues of moderation and prudence in the use of worldly goods. In Catholic England, there was a verse to help people remember when they fell: “Fasting days and Emberings be Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and [St] Lucie,” and a shorter mnemonic that went: “Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy.”

Traditionally, Embertides have been seen also as opportune moments to prepare prayerfully for ordination of diocesan clergy.