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Scott P. Richert

Reader Question: What Are Ember Days?

By December 21, 2007

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A reader writes:

My calendar I got from church says "Ember Day" on Wednesday, December 19 (and Friday and Saturday of that week, too). What is an Ember Day? Should I be doing anything special?

Thank you for a very interesting question! Older readers may remember that, before the revision of the Church's liturgical calendar in 1969 (coinciding with the adoption of the Mass of Paul VI), Ember Days were celebrated four times each year. They were tied to the changing of the seasons, but also to the liturgical cycles of the Church. As Fr. John Hardon, S.J., writes in his indispensable Modern Catholic Dictionary, "They were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after St. Lucy (December 13), the First Sunday of Lent, Pentecost, and the feast of the Holy Cross (September 14)."

With the revision of the calendar, the Vatican left the celebration of Ember Days up to the discretion of each national conference of bishops. In the United States, the bishops' conference has decided not to celebrate them, but many traditional Catholics still do, and it's a nice way to focus our minds on the changing of the liturgical seasons and the seasons of the year.

Traditionally, the Ember Days were celebrated with fasting (no food between meals) and half-abstinence, meaning that meat was allowed at one meal per day. (If you're observing the traditional Friday abstinence from meat, then you would observe complete abstinence on an Ember Friday.)

If you have a question that you would like to be featured as part of our Reader Questions series, please send me an e-mail. Be sure to put "QUESTION" in the subject line, and please note whether you'd like me to address it privately or on the Catholicism blog.

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Comments
December 28, 2007 at 12:39 pm
(1) Reg Smith says:

Can you tell us more? I’ve been wondering about Ember Days for many, many years: what are they (not WHEN are they)?; their origin; where does the word ‘ember’ come from? (Is it as obvious as it looks?)

September 16, 2009 at 11:52 pm
(2) steve365 says:

I dont know what Ember Days are but they are either about money to the church or sex with kids. What else could they possibly be about?

September 18, 2009 at 1:34 pm
(3) Brad says:

Steve365, your comment is a disservice to you, as it shows just how ignorant you really are.

September 22, 2009 at 11:44 am
(4) Joe Leach says:

What’s with the ads for free tarot card readers?
horoscopes and spells? are you kidding having ads like this?

September 22, 2009 at 3:21 pm
(5) Scott P. Richert says:

Mr. Leach:

Please see my post, Why Do You Run Non-Catholic Ads?. I have no control over the ads that are placed on the Catholicism GuideSite; I can, however, report offensive ads and try to get them removed.

March 18, 2011 at 5:46 pm
(6) Kathie Norris says:

Hey Steve 365!! Do you have this problem 365 days a year? Or too much Saint Patty’s Day booze?

September 21, 2012 at 2:51 pm
(7) Mary says:

You said in your article on ember days…

“They were tied to the changing of the seasons, but also to the liturgical cycles of the Church. As Fr. John Hardon, S.J., writes in his indispensable Modern Catholic Dictionary, “They were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after St. Lucy (December 13), the First Sunday of Lent, Pentecost, and the feast of the Holy Cross (September 14).”

…That only list 3 times/year. When is the fourth?

Thank you,

September 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm
(8) Scott P. Richert says:

Mary, that is four:

1. Those after St. Lucy;
2. Those after the First Sunday of Lent;
3. Those after Pentecost;
4. Those after Holy Cross.

December 6, 2012 at 12:29 pm
(9) Patti Day says:

Ember Days have sadl been replaced by paganish celebrations of winter solstice. Why don’t the US Bishops bring them back.

February 20, 2013 at 11:22 pm
(10) marilou says:

Question:
Are the ads on your website screened by you? I was just surprised to see (in a Catholic website) an ad that said –
“Convert to Islam
How to convert to Islam with Live Chat”

Thank you.

February 21, 2013 at 5:51 pm
(11) uThemba says:

thank you Scott for that clear explanation about Ember Days, much appreciated

May 4, 2013 at 8:37 pm
(12) Viktor says:

Did you know that the word “ember” exists in the Hungarian language and means “human” and it is also used as a synonym for “man”? It is spelled the same way and the pronounciation is similar in English.
It is interesting to play with the words and say that pagans celebrated themselves and their works four times a year. Hungarian and its ancestor languages are quite old.

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