In the Roman Catholic tradition we observe the Ember Days four times a year, around the changes of the seasons: during Lent, at Pentecost, Exaltation of the Cross, and close to St. Lucy’s Day on December 12 (“Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy”). This year, the Fall Ember Days fall on September 16, 18, and 19.
These days set apart for special prayer and fasting were considered especially suitable for the ordination of clergy. The Ember Days are known in Latin as the quatuor anni tempora (the “four seasons of the year”), or formerly as the jejunia quatuor temporum (“fasts of the four seasons”).
Catholics who lived before Vatican-II would say that Ember Days were one of the most confusing Catholic practices. Ember Days are an extension of our agrarian roots, but were usually seen merely as fast and abstinence days on the calendar. Most Catholics born after 1965 typically have an outlook of: “Ember Days? I never heard of them.” While not universally practiced, Ember Days are still a vital part of the Church’s tradition.
In the 1969 Calendar reform, the observance of Ember Days was left to the discretion of conferences of bishops, and can be adjusted and expanded. In the USA most bishops have chosen to not officially observe Ember Days, but in other countries they are observed. While Ember Days are not part of the calendar of community worship, personal observance at home or small communities is not discouraged.
What rich traditions we have as Catholics!