Tuesday 8 December 2015

Ember Days

Good morning! It is Traddy Tuesday, the day I enthuse about traditional Catholic worship, belief and devotions. I have it on good authority that the Trads in Edinburgh manage to talk about all these delightful things in a way that is interesting and amusing, so let's hope I can live up to that reputation.

Time is very important to Trads, who preserve the Old Calendar, fasting (or abstaining) on fast days and feasting on feast days. We are also capable of honouring two feasts falling on the same day, so on December 6, we celebrated both the Second Sunday of Advent and the Feast of Saint Nicholas, whom we (now being adults) revere not so much for the Santa Claus stuff but for slapping the heretical Arius (or an Arian bishop), apparently at the Council of Nicaea.

Personally I think the Synod on the Family would have been greatly improved if the bishops had slapped each other although perhaps they remembered that in the story of St Nicholas, St. Nick was thrown in jail for it. (Naturally I do not think anyone but a bishop has the right to slap another bishop unless she is his mother.)

Anyway, I was at two suppers honouring Saint Nicholas, and since I am trying to have a strict Advent between the big feast days, I feasted both times with great jollity. I was sitting at the head of the beautifully-laden table at the second, the lone woman at a table of Trads, when I remembered a mystery in my missal said "By the way, what are Ember Days?"

"What!" the men shouted. "You don't know what Ember Days are? You ask such a question when you write posts on traditionalism!?! Oh, shame!", etc, etc., itp.

This did not answer my question about Ember Days although it certainly made clear why men hate asking other men for directions.

Eventually they settled down long enough for the ex-Anglicans to explain they were for fasting and that Anglicans still observe them, which no doubt led to much reminiscing about the Good Old Days, to which I did not listen. Instead I later checked the Catholic Encyclopedia,  the Old Calendar and the Missal and learned some interesting things.

First, Ember Days is an English-language corruption of "Quattuor Tempora", which means four seasons. They have nothing to do with embers.

Second, they are a way of marking the change of seasons with fasting and prayer. It was one of those steal-it-from-the-pagans-and-Christianize it deals. But it is also a way to thank God for good harvests and to pray for the next one and to think about using the gifts of the earth well--moderation for self, gifts to the needy.

Third, Pope Saint Gregory VII (1073-1085) "arranged and proscribed" the dates of the four Ember Weeks, but three of them date back at least to the 3rd century, but may be even older. St. Leo the Great thought they were apostolic. St Augustine of Canterbury brought them to England in the 6th century.

Fourth, they are not really a week but three days in the appointed week: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Fifth, according to the Old Calendar (not the Catholic Encyclopedia) they fall after St. Lucy's Day (Dec 13), after the First Sunday in Lent, after Whitsunday (Pentecost), and (this year, anyway) after St.Matthew's Day (September 21).

Looking at my Papa Stronsay Calendar (whose advert is below because it is cool), I see that this December's Ember Days are marked in as Ember Wednesday (Dec. 16), Ember Friday (Dec. 18) and Ember Saturday (Dec.19).

Meanwhile, my missal shows that the readings for St. Lucy's Ember Week are very Adventish. The "Secret" Prayer for Ember Wednesday mentions fasting; on Ember Friday. it mentions "our prayers and offerings." Mass on Ember Saturday has a gazillion readings, graduals, a canticle and a tract as well as the Gospel. I shall have to figure out a way of asking my FSSP priest if he includes all these readings and prayers in his Ember Saturday Mass without giving him the false hope that I might be there. I will be in Italy that day, finding out if the nearby traditional Benedictine monks include them.

So that solves the mystery of what "Ember Days" are, and as they are fasting days, I imagine there is no complicated traddy thing to bake. Or fun things to drink. I see that "Ember Days" are called "Suche Dnie" (Dry Days) in Polish.


  1. At least in the Anglican tradition, Ember Days are also when seminarians are supposed to write to their bishops & let them know how things are progressing.

  2. "Personally I think the Synod on the Family would have been greatly improved if the bishops had slapped each other "

    Ha! A priest recently told me that you have to confess to a bishop if you punch a priest (I wasn't planning on doing so, honest!), which I suppose is intended to deter people from striking someone who is 'in persona Christi' in the Mass. But it does make one wonder who you confess to if you strike a bishop.... the pope? or would a cardinal do? maybe just a fellow bishop? Then at least bishops could slap each other to their hearts content at synods and have plenty of confessors on hand ;)

    "This did not answer my question about Ember Days although it certainly made clear why men hate asking other men for directions."
    Absolutely. Now you know why guys never admit ignorance - it's (usually) not arrogance - they just don't want the 'gentle' mockery from fellow blokes for their lack of knowledge.

    But perhaps most curiously, if you were the lone woman at a table of Trads, why hadn't you mustered all your local lasses from your readership to brighten proceedings? You could have told the boys to explain 'Ember' Days with a demo of firewalking on hot embers to amuse the gals... ;)

    Southern Bloke.
    P.S. Would you have any insights from your Italian contacts on the reported plummeting Italian marriage rate?


    Are the Italian bishops doing anything about it? (there was no comment from them in the article) And does this suggest the assertion that most people get married may be skewed by historic highs in marriage rates that are no longer prevalent? But only if you have time/interest...

  3. As it's the "Year of Mercy" I think you can confess punching a priest to another priest. No need to go to the bishop. That said, I think the sin is in punching the priest BECAUSE he's a priest. I would punch a priest in self defense, no problem. Fortunately, the necessity has never arisen.

    As for the party, I was only a guest, so bringing girls along would have been a social solecism. I believe in Georgian times, respectable women did not go to parties where no other woman would be present, but I was with my husband, so I think the Georgians would have thought that okay.

    I haven't heard why marriage rates are plummeting, but I think one factor may be the birth rate. If my generation of Italian women had one, two or no babies, then that is much fewer Italians around to get married. Also, the economy/changed expectation of lifestyle wouldn't help either.

  4. Auntie Seraphic, please can you write a post about the light show at the Vatican yesterday? I've just watched it and found it very distressing - some images look diabolic.

    1. Juliana, as you see, I've written about it! I didn't watch it; I've only seen some photos. Please don't let it trouble you. Just continue to pray for the Church, and for Francis, and perhaps read some good traditional theology. Giving up a treat for Advent and almsgiving may make you feel better, too. Whatever happens to (or in) St. Peter's, the faith is the faith.


This is Edinburgh Housewife, a blog for Catholic women and other women of good will. It assumes that the average reader is an unmarried, childless Catholic woman over 18. Commenters are asked to take that into consideration before commenting. Anonymous comments may be erased.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.