Ember Days - The Best Part of the Liturgical Year You Never Knew Existed

Friday, March 10, 2017

Linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum for 7 Quick Takes!

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:
Ash Wednesday
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?


  1. I had *heard* of Ember Days, but didn't know what they were for... thank you for enlightening me! This would definitely be a great motivator to help clean house - truly clean, that is! What a great idea...

  2. Kirby, thank you for this post!!!! I've heard of the Ember days here and there over the years, and thought that they sounded cool to observe, but 1. I always forget when they came around, and 2. All the articles I read were fairly vague on how to observe them aside from fasting and prayer. So, this is super helpful! I'm so excited! I just marked down the rest of the Ember Days for the year on my calendar (and noticed that my son's birthday falls on one of them, we may just be flexible on that day) so that we can observe them and practice this ancient tradition!

    1. I think I picked up on Ember Days way back in my convent-staying time. There is still a lot I love about the monastic way of life, but that doesn't always fit well in the practicalities of being a wife and mother. If I can find some way to modify it and allow me to get at the heart of a practice while fulfilling my vocation - I'm all for it!

  3. What a wonderful explanation of Ember Days!

  4. This was very interesting. I have heard of Ember Days but in a secular context--you are supposed to plant and/or prune certain plants on Ember Days apparently.

    1. They do have an agricultural connection! Originally there were only three Ember Days, and the dates stemmed from Roman dates for seeding and harvesting. The Church baptized the Roman practice (so to speak) and fit it into the liturgical calendar since it was a practice that could be utilized for a good purpose.

  5. I have never heard of this, but I love it! I think I´ll be doing my Lenten Ember days a week or so late, but it sounds exactly what I need this year, as I´ve kind of missed the "Lenten boat" so far this year . . .

    Thanks for that!


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