Ember Days were traditionally days of fast and abstinence. They are tied to the seasons of the year, and are held on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of four weeks: the third week of September, the third week of Advent, the first week of Lent, and the octave of Pentecost.
The word “ember” is an English adaptation of the Latin name, “quattuor tempora” meaning four seasons.
The Ember Days were attested to as traditional by St. Leo I, and they were prescribed for the whole of the Latin rite by the time of St. Gregory VII.
The observance of the Ember Days stood in contrast to the pagan celebrations of Rome, which honored gods of nature at the change of the seasons. Catholics instead were encouraged to thank God for the gifts of creation, and to use those gifts according to his will.
Ordinations have traditionally been held on Ember Saturdays.
The Ember Days of this liturgical year fall Dec. 16, 18, and 19; Feb. 24, 26, 27, 2021; May 26, 28, 29, 2021; and Sept. 22, 24, 25, 2021.
On the Ember Days of Advent, Bishop Lucia has asked Catholics in Syracuse to pray for married couples and families. Each day Lucia has recommended a specific prayer, such as attending Mass or praying the Rosary, and a specific form of fasting, such as giving up social media for the day or eating one large meal and two small meals.
Lucia has dedicated the Lenten Ember Days to prayer and fasting for priests and deacons. For the Ember Days of Pentecost, Lucia has asked Catholics to pray and fast for men and women in consecrated life, and the September Ember Days will be dedicated to prayer and fasting for single people.
Catholics in the Diocese of Syracuse who participate in the Ember Days and who have a detachment from sin can gain a partial indulgence, “that is, a partial remission before God of the temporal punishment for sin, whose guilt is forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance, provided they are in a state of grace at least at the time the indulgenced work is completed,” the diocese noted in its announcement.
A prayer to St. Joseph, who is the patron of Syracuse’s Year for Vocations, is also included in the indulged acts in the diocesan announcement. The diocese recommended the “Ad te, beate Joseph” or any other “duly approved prayer” to St. Joseph.
The observance of Ember Days has seen a resurgence in the Church in recent years.
In 2018, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh announced a Year of Repentance for his diocese in the wake of clergy sex abuse scandals, and included the observance of Ember Days as part of that year.
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Last December, Father Matthew Barzare of the Diocese of Lafayette blessed 100 gallons of water on the Ember Saturday of Advent, which was then loaded into a crop-duster and sprayed over fields and the town of Cow Island.