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Happy Ember Friday! Have you never heard of Ember Days? You are in good company. They are not a part of Catholic culture that is in widespread usage. But they could be and I think they should be!
Here's the low down on Ember Days and why they are the best part of the liturgical year you never knew existed.
What are Ember Days?
Essentially, they are 3 days, toward the beginning of each liturgical season, set aside for fasting and prayer and to "to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy" (New Advent).
They are very ancient practice in the Catholic Church and established somewhere between the Apostolic age and the 5th Century.
When are Ember Days?
They are the Wednesday, Friday, Saturday following:
Feast of the Holy Cross
St. Lucia Day
That roughly works out to a set of Ember Days in each Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.
So why are they awesome?
They are a Liturgical Reset Button
Each of those days are timed toward the beginning of a season, but are typically within the second or third week of a new season. That means they come right at the point when all of your lofty ideals have come tumbling down.
Maybe you are already overwhelmed by all of the prayer options for Lent.
Maybe you really wanted to focus more on family this Advent but family time has yet to happen.
Maybe you are in a September spiritual slump.
Each of those Ember Days come at a time when you could probably do with slowing down, re-focusing, and re-evaluating.
They are the Main Reason I Have a Clean House
Lemme tell y'all a secret....I don't clean all that often. I tidy. I pick up. I wipe down the kitchen counters and bathroom surfaces (or as I call them the "high consequence areas").
But stuff like scouring the bathtub, dusting, sweeping into corners? Yeah....that happens about four times a year for sure. Ember Days!
When the Ember Days roll around, I make sure I set aside time to hit all of those tasks. It makes sense to me to clean out my physical house while I am cleaning spiritual house.
Because the Ember Days come around just before the part of that liturgical season that involves hosting parities, the house is then cleaned and ready for festivities! So much to love!
They are a Reminder To Pray While We Work
Because I am normally cleaning during my Ember Days, I have to pray while working by necessity if the prayer part is going to happen.
I have found that to be a huge blessing! Doing the externals of making myself do the tasks I do not enjoy doing, while holding mental intentions and prayers for other people is very humbling. It is an excellent reminder that my work is not about me.
They Are Something The Kids Can Understand
Ember Days are very much an external practice that has a big internal effect. The whole experience is full of stuff the kids can latch onto: praying for people they care about, helping clean out under their beds, making decisions about what clothes don't fit them anymore, etc.
I find that the Ember Days happen often enough for even my little kids to remember the last time they came around. That means they are a convenient way to jump start a family culture centered around the liturgical year.
That Thursday Rest Day is Genius
At first I thought it was odd to schedule the days Wednesday then Friday and Saturday. Why not just go full steam ahead? But I have decided that the Church was wise to make it that way.
Because that Wednesday is probably going to be a little rough as I make myself get moving and get my family back on board.
Because there might be other weekday stuff that, by necessity, should get done.
Because having one of the days fall on the weekend greatly increases the likelihood this might be a whole family endeavor.
Are you observing the Ember Days? Is this the first time you have heard of them? Going to give it a shot?