"Many Christians, alas, scarcely know the purpose of the Ember days. They have been appointed in order that the faithful pray for good priests, and may supplement their prayers by fasting and good works. Good priests must be obtained through prayer. The greatest blessing for a parish is a good, zealous priest. Those who often pray for priests will draw Godʼs blessing upon themselves, and will experience the assistance and blessing of the priest in the hour of death.
-- Our Young People, A Soldierʼs Fidelity in Keeping the Ember Days,( July 1910 )
Ember Days Let us, therefore, revive Embers days!   "The Observance of ember-days is of great antiquity in the Church. Their connection with the ordination of the ministers of religion renders them particularly worthy the regard of the faithful. We cannot be too deeply impressed with the blessing granted a people, whose priests are according to Godʼs own heart. To obtain such, no humiliation should be deemed too great; no supplication should be neglected. Whilst therefore we thank God for the fruits of the earth, and humble ourselves for the sins we have committed, we should beg God to supply his Church with worthy pastors." Ember days are: Wednesday: the day Christ was betrayed (Fast and half-abstinence) Prayers: Catholic Life: Ember Days "“He who is accustomed to renounce lawful gratifications easily abstains from forbidden pleasures.” St. Gregory. History of Ember Days By The Rev. H. G. Hughes "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Juda joy and gladness and great solemnities." —Zach. viii, 19.
The fast of the four seasons is probably of apostolic institution. (...) We should never let these seasons pass without adding prayer to our fasts, or it may be compensating fast by prayer. Our prayer should be for the clergy, not only those ordained, though for them especially; but for the Sovereign Pontiff, the cardinals, bishops, parochial clergy, missionaries and religious orders, seminarians; and for the grace of vocation to the priesthood. An excellent prayer for this purpose is the Litany of the Saints, in which so many bishops, priests, and levites are invoked; or the Rosary may be appropriately said, grouping those for whom we pray into five classes, corresponding to the five decades. Publications of the Catholic Truth Society, (Volume 24)
"The fast of the Ember days has been instituted principally to obtain of God good, holy and zealous priests for His Church. On this point especially depend the honor and welfare of the Church and the salvation of mankind.
History proves, beyond all doubt, that a careless and tepid clergy do greater injury to the Church and to the souls of men than a bitter and bloody persecution. Persecution, in its outcome, proves beneficial to the Church and sends heroic martyrs to heaven, but a clergy devoid of holiness and virtue is the scourge of souls and the disgrace of the Church.
That she may possess a truly worthy clergy, the Church endeavors to secure Godʼs blessing on the ordinations by prescribing special prayers in her liturgy and the fasting of the Ember Days to all the faithful. Wherefore, it behooves every Catholic to enter into the spirit of the Church by faithfully keeping the laws of fasting and abstinence on the prescribed days, by devout and earnest prayer, and moreover, by contributing, each one according to his means, to educate aspirants to the priesthood, and to support missionaries both at home and in foreign lands. This is not a mere counsel, but a duty for which God will hold each one accountable."
Rev. Ferreol Girarday C.S.S.R., (Vigils and Feasts, 1910)
The observance of Ember days is a very old tradition, going back to the Apostolic time and taking after the Roman Pagan customs that held festivals on each seasons of the year. In 494, Pope Gelasius I used the Ember Saturdays to confer ordination to the priesthood.
From their origins, Ember days had a two fold purpose: to pray for the laborers and for the fruits of the harvest. During these three days, Catholics were thanking Our Blessed Lord "for the gifts of nature" asking Him "to teach men to make use of them in moderation, assist the needy" but most of all to pray for more good priests.
In 1969, Pope Paul VI excluded the embers day from being mandatory days of fast and abstinence and left their celebrations to the discretion of the local bishops. Even though the US Bishopsʼ Conference has decided not to celebrate them, we may still choose to do so as a personal devotion since its observance at home or small communities is not discouraged:
"17. Vigils and Ember Days, as most now know, no longer oblige to fast and abstinence. However, the liturgical renewal and the deeper appreciation of the joy of the holy days of the Christian year will, we hope, result in a renewed appreciation as to why our forefathers spoke of "a fast before a feast." We impose no fast before any feast-day, but we suggest that the devout will find greater Christian joy in the feasts of the liturgical calendar if they freely bind themselves, for their own motives and in their own spirit of piety, to prepare for each Church festival by a day of particular self- denial, penitential prayer and fasting."
Vigils and Ember Days (USCCB) 1966
Let us again pray, fast, and abstain for more faithful priests!
St. Vincentʼs Manual, 1854
Friday: Christ was crucified (Fast and abstinence)
and Saturday: the day Christ was entombed. (Fast and half-abstinence)
Ember days in Latin Quatuor Tempora means "the four times" or the "four seasons". They occurred in:
Autumn (September after the Feast of the Holy Cross)
Winter (December on the third week of Advent, after the Feast of St. Lucy)
Spring (After the first Sunday of Lent, after Ash Wednesday)
and Summer (on the Octave of Pentecost)
Abstinence: no meat. Dairy products, eggs, or condiments and shortening made from animal fat are allowed.
Half-abstinence: meat is allowed at one meal a day.
Fasting: one full meal a day and two smaller meals. The two smaller meals should not equal the quantity of the main meal.
-Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids are allowed.
-Fish and all cold-blooded animals may be eaten.
Ember days, or Quarter Tense, are three fast days – Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday – in each of the four seasons. In winter they occur in the third week of Advent; in spring, in the first week of Lent; in summer, during Whit week; and in autumn, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. (September 14).
These fasts were instituted to sanctify each season of the year, and thus obtain the favors of God, especially His mercy. They were also established to obtain the blessing of the Almighty on the fruits of the land. In spring we pray for fertility; in summer, for preservation of the crops; in autumn, for a good harvest; and in winter we offer up our grateful thanksgiving for the blessings received.
The Church, too, wishes us to pray for those who are to be ordained priests on these days, that they may obtain the graces necessary to fulfill all their obligations, and the virtues that adorn their sacred calling. “And when they had ordained for them priests in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, in Whom they believed.” (Acts xiv.22.)
As alms generally accompany fasting and prayer, a donation toward the education of priests for the foreign mission would be in keeping with the spirit of the Church on these occasions. We ought also to pray for vocations, especially for the foreign missions. “The harvest is great, but the laborers few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He send laborers into the vineyard.” (Matt. ix. 37,38.).
These days should also remind us of asking ourselves how we stand with regard to God. If there be anything troubling our conscience, we ought to set it right, and then make good resolutions for the coming quarter. Thus, keeping ourselves always ready for the final summons, death will be disarmed of its terrors, and the close of life will be marked with a beautiful serenity.
“And grant us, while by fasts we strive
This mortal body to control,
To fast from all the food of ins,
And so to purify the soul.”
Example: The Machabees
Seven brothers, commonly known as the Machabees, were apprehended and ordered to eat swine’s flesh, which was forbidden by the law of Moses. On refusing they were ordered to be tortured. Antiochus himself presided at the martyrdom, and being enraged to see such constancy in age so tender, he tried every means to terrify and torture them into a compliance with his impious demands. He condemned them to undergo the same torments one after another, that the sufferings of the foregoing might intimidate the next. The eldest was fist called out, in the presence of his mother and his brothers. He declared that he was ready to die rather than to transgress the laws of God, received from this forefathers. The executioners cut out his tongue, chopped off the extremities of his hands and feet, drew the skin from off his head, and then cast the body into a cauldron, where the remains of agonizing life were consumed by a slow fire.
The first being thus barbarously slain, the rest were successively tormented and slain in the same manner. Each advanced in his turn, each with the same manly fortitude bore the tyrant’s tortures, and each with the same steady perseverance triumphed over his savage inhumanity.
They adored the decrees of God, Who was pleased to make this trial of their faith. They readily submitted to the torments in punishment for their sins. They cheerfully resigned a life which they hoped to receive again by a glorious resurrection. And as if the sight of sufferings had inspired them with fresh courage, they told the tyrant that he was not to fancy them abandoned by their God; that is was impious folly in him thus to fight against the Almighty; that he was but a passing scourge in the Almighty’s hand, and would himself soon feel the vengeance prepared for this chastisement. Antiochus would willingly have pardoned their reproaches if he could but have got the better of their fortitude. Six of the brothers had gloriously conquered by their death; the seventh only remained, the youngest of them all, and him the tyrant hoped to gain by caresses and fair promises. He promised him his friendship, wealth, and happiness, if he would only abjure the laws of his forefathers. When he perceived that his words made no impression, he called the mother, and desired her, if she had any fondness left for an only surviving son, to disabuse him of his error, and by her advice to preserve his life. The incomparable woman, who to a mother’s tenderness joined a manly fortitude of mind, despised the tyrant’s solicitations, and in derision promised that she would advise her son, since he desired it. Wherefore, bending towards the young man, she exhorted him in her native tongue that he would have pity on her who had borne him in her womb and reared him; that he would not fear the tormentor, bu look up to God, the Creator of all things; and that he would courageously follow the glorious example of his brothers, that so, by the Divine mercy, she might be worthy to receive them all again in life eternal.
Animated with fresh resolution, the young man said to the executioners: “Behold me fixed in the resolution of obeying the law; nor will I disobey God to obey the king.” The tyrant foamed with rage to see himself thus defeated. With fiercer barbarity than he had shown against the other six brothers, he discharged his fury upon the seventh, and tortured him to death. The illustrious mother, having nothing more to fear for her sons, followed them with redoubled vigor in their victorious career, and with them laid down her own life, on the same day and in the same glorious cause.
Antiochus shortly afterwards ended a miserable life by a most miserable death.
Source: Catholic Life, or, The Feasts, Fasts, and Devotions of the Ecclesiastical Year, 1908.
SYNOPSIS— Necessity and utility of fasting already treated of. Today we speak of Ember Days. This name a corruption of Quatuor Tempora, sometimes called the Three Times.
II. History of Ember Days: (a) Probably the Christianizing of a heathen custom. Wisdom of the Church in doing this. The Agricultural Deities of Rome. Men led into the right path by institution of Ember Days. (6) Ember Days also a survival of the sanctification of Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday; teaching the truth that all our time belongs to God.(c) Not unlikely that the Jewish practice, mentioned in the text, had its influence upon the institution of Ember Days. From history of Ember Days we learn something of liturgical and devotional development springing out of the deposit of Divine Truth.
III. Special intentions of Church in instituting the Ember Days:(0) To consecrate the four seasons of the year; to draw a blessing on the crops; to thank God for their safe harvesting, thus teaching the lesson of dependence upon God for our daily food. Connection with this fact of (1) Abstinence and (2) Almsgiving,(fc) Prayer for those to be ordained.
Conclusion.—The loss incurred by neglect or forgetfulness of these holy observances. In them, the Church exercises her mediatorial office in union with Jesus Christ, whose priesthood she shares in her corporate capacity.
The Catholic Church, dear brethren in Jesus Christ, from the very beginning of her divinely appointed mission, has ever inculcated upon her children the utility, the necessity and the duty of fasting, as a means of doing penance and subduing the flesh to the spirit. (The reasons for this have been explained in a former sermon in this course of instructions, and it is, therefore, unnecessary for me to dwell upon them now). I propose now to treat of four special seasons of fasting and prayer which the Church prescribes during the year, and which we know by the name of Ember Days. This name, once erroneously connected with a kind of cake baked upon hot ashes or embers, is derived with more probability by modern writers from the Latin term "Quatuor Tempora," or the "four times" of fasting, of which term "Ember" is a corruption. [See the "Catholic Encyclopedia," Art. Ember Days.] In some old writers the Ember Days are spoken of as the "Three Times"; but this is easily understood by the fact that the great Lenten fast somewhat overshadows the Ember Days which occur at that season of the year.
The history of the Ember Days can be traced very far back in the life of the Church. There is little doubt, indeed, that we have in them an instance of a heathen custom taken over by the Church and Christianized, with that practical wisdom for which she is justly admired, and which knows how to take the elements of good that are to be found in manʼs natural religious instincts, and to purify them and elevate them to that supernatural order with which she is the medium of communication for men.
The original deities of the Roman people were all connected with agriculture, upon which art men depend for their daily bread. Hence it was the custom in ancient Rome to hold religious services in honor of these gods in June, September and December, and to invoke their protection upon the fruits of the earth. This idea in itself was entirely right and good, though its expression was directed to false deities. By the establishment of the Ember Days the Church recalled men to the right path and taught them to acknowledge the one true God, the Giver of all good; and, particularly, at these four seasons to thank Him for the gifts of nature or to invoke the divine blessing upon the crops; to use Godʼs gifts also in moderation, and by the alms-giving, which the Church has always associated with fasting and prayer, to assist their needy brethren.
We can see, moreover, in the days of the week set apart for the Ember fast, a most interesting survival of the weekly religious observances which obtained in the early Church. From the homilies of St. Leo the Great we know that it was customary to fast and to hold meetings for special prayer every Wednesday and Friday. Further, in accordance with the primitive custom by which the solemn celebration of Holy Mass on festival days was preceded by a vigil of prayer and fasting, we find the Saturday also dedicated to this pious practice in preparation for the festal celebration of the Christian Sabbath, the first day of the week, known as the "Lordʼs Day." Hence it is that the Ember Days fall on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. [See Duchesne: "Origines du Culte Chrétien," Paris, 1898, pp. 222, 223.] Thus from the earliest times the Church exhibited the salutary tendency to set apart not only the Sunday, but other days for special acts of worship and devotion, teaching us thereby that our religion should be part of our daily lives, and not put off and on with our Sunday clothes; that, in a word, man owes his whole life and every moment of his time to the service of his Creator.
It is not unlikely that the Jewish practice mentioned in the word of my text also had its influence upon the Church in the establishment of the Ember Days. "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: the fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Juda joy and gladness and great solemnities" (Zach. viii, 19).
Enough has been said, dear brethren, concerning the history of the Ember Days to show you that we have in them a religious observance of which the origin is to be found in those primitive times when the tones of the Masterʼs voice still resounded as not far off, when it was remembered how He had said, "The days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them: and then they shall fast in those days" (St. Mark ii, 20). The Church, in fact, began her life with a sacred deposit of divine unalterable truth given into her infallible keeping by Jesus Christ and His Apostles. Almost naturally, we may say, and inevitably, yet also under the supernatural guidance of Godʼs Holy Spirit in the Church, this body of truth, this deposit of divinely revealed teaching, found its expression in various outward acts of devotion. These at first, without doubt, varied in different places, yet all expressed the same truth: it took time, moreover, for the Church to develop her full liturgical and devotional life. At first this development was difficult in face of the relentless persecution that she had to endure, but when peace came at last the work went rapidly forward, and in due time, while still leaving great devotional freedom to the faithful in various times and places, the supreme authority stepped in and imposed certain uniform practices and liturgical rites upon the whole Church. The Ember Days are among these; but the point that I would have you notice is that, although the universal obligation of such observances in some cases did not come till a comparatively late date, the Ember Days themselves, for instance, having been definitely arranged and prescribed for the whole Church by Pope Gregory VII in the eleventh century, yet they have their roots in the far remote past, and in the practices of primitive times, and are the result of a legitimate development of the truth which Jesus Christ and His Holy Apostles taught in the beginning.
We will consider now the special intentions of the Church in the institution of the Ember Days. They are intended to consecrate to God the four seasons of the year; to implore the Divine blessing upon the fruits of the earth, and thank almighty God for their safe harvesting.
After all, dear brethren, although the complicated conditions of modern life may easily make those forget it who are not employed in the actual cultivation of the soil, it is upon the fruits of the earth that all mankind, civilized or uncivilized, ultimately depend for existence. We forget very easily that the staple food which we find upon our tables every day is there because God has given sun and rain in due season. One of the most obvious ways of acknowledging our dependence upon God for these gifts consists in a due moderation and restriction in their use. I say "obvious," dear brethren, for this mode of acknowledgment naturally suggests itself to the human mind where men have not been sophisticated by the luxuries of modern "civilized" life. It has been shown by modern investigation that the sacred Tubu, which exists almost universally amongst savage races, is based upon this idea of the recognition of God as the Giver of all good things by abstinence from this one or that one of His gifts. [See "La Religion des Primitifs," by Mgr. A. Le Roy, Paris, 1909.]
And is it not common-sense to say that an unlimited and greedy indulgence in luxuries of various kinds implies of itself a spirit of independence and of forgetfulness of the fact that we depend upon God as truly as do the birds of the air and the beasts of the field? It follows, then, that a willing moderation is not only a salutary self-denial, but also an acknowledgment of gratitude due to the Father who provides for our necessities—nay, who showers His gifts upon us in so great abundance?
By giving to the poor what we save by self-denial, we carry out more completely the intentions of the Church in appointing the Ember seasons; for not only is this an act of charity most pleasing to God, but it is also a recognition of that common bond of dependence upon Him which, in fact, unites the whole human race in a solidarity of need as children of one heavenly Father to whom we owe all that we have or are. Thus, speaking in a Homily at the Advent Ember season, St. Leo says: "Fasting has ever been the nourishment of virtue. Abstinence is the source of chaste thoughts, of salutary counsel. By voluntary mortification the flesh dies to its concupiscence and the spirit is renewed in virtue. But, since fasting alone is not sufficient whereby to secure the soulʼs salvation, let us add to it works of mercy towards the poor. Let us make that which we retrench from indulgence serve unto the exercise of virtue. Let the abstinence of him that fasts become the meal of the poor man."
From very early times the Saturday in the Ember weeks has been set apart by the Church for the ordination of her clergy. The reason is easy to see. The spiritual good of the whole Church, and the salvation of the faithful depend, under Godʼs Providence, to a very great extent upon the zeal and personal holiness of the ministers of the sanctuary. What more urgent object of prayer and fasting, then, than to obtain a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon those who, at the Ember seasons, are about to be consecrated to the solemn and responsible duties of the sacred ministry? Here, therefore, we have another intention of the Church in calling upon her children to set apart these days for fasting and special prayer.
Truly, then, when we consider their venerable origin, their practical embodiment of the great truth of the efficacy and necessity of prayer and self-denial, their salutary influence upon the Christian life, and the blessings that their due observance will most certainly draw down upon the Church, is it not a matter of self-reproach, my dear brethren, that we take so little notice of the Ember Days and of other similar observances which played so great a part in the lives of our forefathers in the faith?
Should we not hold it to be a sacred duty and a high privilege to forward, each in his own sphere, by word and by example, that happy revival of the devotional and liturgical life of the Church which is to be witnessed to-day? It is no slight thing to pass over unnoticed a holy institution like that of the Ember Days; for to these things are attached very special graces and blessings which the Church calls down at such times upon her faithful children. We can scarcely expect those blessings if we dissociate ourselves by our forgetfulness or indifference from those Catholic ordinances which are their ordinary vehicle. There is a sacred virtue in those ordinances; for they are, as it were, the official acts, and the official pleadings of the Church as appointed intermediary between God and man; exercising her mediation through that priesthood which is on earth the continuation of and participation in the Eternal Priesthood of Jesus Christ Himself, who, indeed, carries on through Church and priest, who are in intimate union and co-operation with Him, His own mediatorial office. And has not St. John told us in the Apocalypse that we are all—in our corporate capacity, that is, as members of the Church—"a kingdom and priests to God?" It is, then, both a duty and a privilege, a duty not to be neglected, and a privilege not to be despised, to unite ourselves with the Church in those special rites and ceremonies which she has instituted for our common observance as members of Christʼs mystical Body.
Lastly, my dear brethren, we must always remember that the outward expressions of piety, of repentance and devotion, these bodily fasts and mortification, are but a means to an end: that they are meant to aid us in that continual fast and abstinence from all sinful pleasures which is the daily obligation of every Christian, and is not to be confined to any special times or seasons. The interior spirit, then, in which we should follow the Church in these holy observances, the spirit without which they would be vain and useless indeed, is summed up admirably in one of the prayers in the Mass for the Ember Saturday during the season of Pentecost: "Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that, being taught by these salutary fasts, and abstaining likewise from all vices, we may the more easily obtain thy mercy—through Jesus Christ, our Lord."
A Pulpit Commentary on Catholic Teaching: The liturgy of the ecclesiastical year, 1910 pp119-124
Let us, therefore, revive Embers days!
"The Observance of ember-days is of great antiquity in the Church. Their connection with the ordination of the ministers of religion renders them particularly worthy the regard of the faithful. We cannot be too deeply impressed with the blessing granted a people, whose priests are according to Godʼs own heart. To obtain such, no humiliation should be deemed too great; no supplication should be neglected. Whilst therefore we thank God for the fruits of the earth, and humble ourselves for the sins we have committed, we should beg God to supply his Church with worthy pastors."
Ember days are:
Wednesday: the day Christ was betrayed (Fast and half-abstinence)
Catholic Life: Ember Days
"“He who is accustomed to renounce lawful gratifications easily abstains from forbidden pleasures.” St. Gregory.
History of Ember Days By The Rev. H. G. Hughes
"Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Juda joy and gladness and great solemnities." —Zach. viii, 19.