The Ember Days

What are the Ember Days?

The Ember Days are set aside by the Church as a way to mark the passage of seasons through prayer and fasting.  As you may suspect, this happens four times a year: in winter, after the feast of St. Lucy; in spring, after Ash Wednesday; in summer, after Pentecost Sunday; and in fall, after Holy Cross Day. An old English rhyme states: “Fasting days and Emberings be / Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.”

In Latin, these days are called Quatour Tempora (Four Times). The word “Ember Days” is from the Anglo-Saxon ymbren, a circuit or revolution (from ymb, around, and ryne, a course, running). Folk etymology claims that the source of “ember” comes from “may ye remember,” that is, remember the cycle of death and life.

The earliest mention of the Ember Days is found in the writings of Philastrius, the bishop of Brescia, who died in 387 AD. However, Leo the Great (440-461) called the fasts an apostolic institution.

What are the Ember Days for?

These are days for prayer and fasting, specifically prayer for clergy and ordinations, as well as taking care of the needy. They are days to be attentive to the givenness of God’s created order in the passage of the seasons. For this reason, they have also traditionally been the times that women pray for children and childbirth.

How does the Book of Common Prayer treat the Ember Days?

The collect for the Ember Days is as follows:

 Almighty God, who hast committed to the hands of men the ministry of reconciliation; We humbly beseech thee, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, to put it into the hearts of many to offer themselves for this ministry; that thereby mankind may be drawn to thy blessed kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The epistle is Acts 13: 44-48. The Gospel is St. Luke 4:16-31

Are there any interesting customs surrounding the Ember Days?

Folklore says that the weather of the Ember Days predicts the weather of the year. You can scroll down on the Fisheaters Ember Days article to find a helpful chart showing which Ember Day corresponds to which month of the year.

If I want to know more, what are some other helpful resources?

We found these two links to be particularly helpful:


Catholic Culture: