Ember Days are days of fasting, abstinence, and prayer that have been observed by many Christian denominations for centuries. They are traditionally observed four times a year—on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following the 1st Sunday of Advent, the 1st Sunday of Lent, Pentecost (Whitsunday), and Holy Cross Day.
By the time of of Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), Ember Days were instituted as a way to offer thanksgiving for God’s gifts throughout the changing seasons. The word “ember” derives from an old Germanic word meaning “seasonal change” or “to turn around.” In essence, these days serve as reminders to Christians to give thanks for their blessings and seek guidance from God during times of transition.
But what exactly are Ember Days and why do they exist? Let’s take a look at what these days mean, how to observe them most effectively, and some of the traditional foods eaten on these special occasions.
How To Observe Ember Days
The best way to observe Ember Days is through prayerful reflection. This could include reading Scripture or other spiritual books, attending Mass or other religious services, or simply spending time in silent contemplation with God.
Traditional Catholic practice also recommends fasting on these days with simple meals that are less than one full meal per day.
Additionally, abstaining from eating meat is common practice on Ember Days — especially among Catholics — as a sign of self-denial and humility before God.
Traditional Foods Eaten On Ember Days
Fish has been an important part of the traditional menu on Ember Days since medieval times when only certain types of meat were allowed to be eaten during fasting periods such as Lent or Advent. Fish dishes can range from simple baked fish recipes to more complex culinary creations such as poached salmon in white wine sauce or fried cod with lemon butter sauce.
Other traditional foods associated with Ember Days include:
- Eggs (which were originally banned during fast periods but allowed once again in 1215 AD)
- Dried fruits such as raisins and dates (which were considered sweet treats even at this time)
- Grains such as barley and oats (used both then and now for soups and porridges)
- Beans (a source of inexpensive protein which was widely available even back then)
- Soups made with vegetables grown during fall harvest season (such as broccoli rabe or roasted cauliflower)
What Are Ember Day Prayers?
Ember Day prayers for Catholics are special supplications said during the four Ember days of each liturgical season. On these days, Catholics ask God to bless their lives and the Church. The prayers can include petitions for vocations, success in spiritual pursuits, and guidance in living a life of holiness.
Summary of Ember Days
- Ember days are days of fasting, abstinence, and prayer in the Catholic Church
- They fall on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following the 1st Sunday of Advent, the 1st Sunday of Lent, Pentecost (Whitsunday), and Holy Cross Day
- Ember days have their roots in ancient pagan and Jewish traditions of fasting during specific times of the year
- The Catholic Church adopted the practice of Ember days in the 8th century as a way to spiritualize these pagan and Jewish traditions
- Ember days are not obligatory for Catholics, but many choose to observe them as a way to grow closer to God
Ember Days are not just about abstaining from food but rather about taking time out of our busy lives to give thanks for our blessings and ask for guidance from God during transitional periods in our lives. There are many ways to observe these special days including through prayerful reflection, abstaining from meat consumption on those days, and consuming traditional foods associated with the season.
By observing Ember Days thoughtfully & prayerfully you will benefit greatly both spiritually & temporally.