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Ember Days

Ember Days

Ember DaysThe Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer (page 18) has “The Ember Days, traditionally observed on the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays after the First Sunday in Lent, the Day of Pentecost, Holy Cross Day, and December 13”. The mnemonic is “Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy”.

In ancient Italy the times (originally three) were associated with sowing, harvest, and vintage, for which one prayed, fasted, and gave alms. Later the four times became occasions for ordination, for which the Christian community prayed and the candidates prepared themselves by prayer and retreat. The New Zealand Prayer Book only recognises two sets (page 12): “Ember Days. Prayers are offered on the weekdays following the Day of Pentecost and the week preceding St Andrew’s Day.” TEC’s BCP appoints proper collects and readings under the title “For the Ministry (Ember Days), including propers “For those to be ordained,” “For the choice of fit persons for the ministry,” and “For all Christians in their vocation” (BCP, pp. 256-257, 929).

In a recent discussion we noted the wonderful connection with Jewish roots (Yom Kippur and Sukkot) at this time. Fr Robert Lyons noted the Western pre-Vatican II readings:

readings for the September Ember Days:

Amos 9: 13-15
Nehemiah 8: 1-10 (References month 7, day 1 – Yom Teruah)
Mark 9: 16-28

Hosea 14: 2-10
Luke 7: 36-50

Leviticus 23: 26-32 (References Yom Kippur)
Leviticus 23: 39-43 (References Sukkot)
Micah 7: 14, 16, 18-20
Zechariah 8: 14-19 (Oblique reference to fasting days, including the seventh month)
Daniel 3: 47-51
Hebrews 9: 2-12 (Discussion on the Tabernacle and Sanctuary)
Luke 13: 6-17 (Fruitless fig tree, healing of a woman on the sabbath)

(Note: The first Leviticus reading, the Hebrews Reading, and the Luke Gospel are provided for the short form of Mass on Ember Saturday)

My Saint Andrew Daily Missal (1961) makes this connection:

To the Jews they recalled the twofold promulgation of the Law, on their exodus from Egypt and after the Babylonian captivity…The Ember Saturday of September, which was in fact formerly the seventh month of the year, recalls a twofold festival of penance and rejoicing which the Jews kept at this season: the solemn feast of Atonement when with the blood of the victims the High Priest went in to the Holy of Holies to obtain the pardon of the sins of the people and the feast of Tabernacles when,for a whole week, at the conclusion of the harvest, the Jews lived in tents to commemorate the wandering life of their fathers in the desert….In the High Priest going into the Holy of Holies St. Paul sees a type of Christ…The feast of Atonement is a figure of the sacrifice of Christ whose redeeming Blood has taken the place of that of the victims of the old Law… The feast of Tabernacles was the great Jewish festival…Every year, on the feast of the Atonement, the High Priest went into the sanctuary of the Temple with the blood of the victims of sacrifice. Christ, as High Priest of the New Law, bearer of His own Blood, enters once for all into the sanctuary of heaven and opens it for us.

Is anyone aware of Yom Kippur or Sukkot references, or overtones in readings on Sunday, weekdays, or for the daily office in any contemporary revisions for around this time – or has all that been lost?

An article: The glow of Ember Days

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5 thoughts on “Ember Days”

  1. The Book of Common Prayer 1662 has Advent, Lent, Whitsun and Holy Cross as the times for Ember Days. The Advent series is the week of the Third Sunday of Advent, which is usually figured as starting the Wednesday after St Lucy.

    The modern tradition taken up in ASB 1980 and Common Worship 2000 is to move the Advent set a week earlier, to the week of the Second Sunday of Advent. The Lenten series has been kept unchanged (after the First Sunday of Lent), but the two others have been moved to Petertide and Michaelmas respectively. These latter are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday before the Sunday nearest to 29 June or 29 September respectively. These, but especially Petertide, have become the usual times for ordinations, so that Ember Days are wedded to ordination in the mind of many.

    The OED gives ymbren as a possible source of ‘Ember’, from the Old English ymb ‘about, round’ and rynne ‘course, running’.

  2. A very interesting and thought provoking note. growing up Catholi pre Vatican II I was very conscious of ember days. I also think it spiritually enriching to be aware of the Jewish roots and practice.
    Veering away somewhat however a remaining conundrum for me is the kol Nidrie invocation that opens Yom Kippur, beautiful in chanted Hebrew but so confronting when you read an English translation.

    All vows:

    Prohibitions, oaths, consecrations, vows that we may vow, swear, consecrate, or prohibit upon ourselves –

    from this Yom Kippur until the next Yom Kippuer, may it come upon us for good –

    regarding them all, we regret them henceforth.

    They will all be permitted, abandoned, cancelled, null and void, without power and without standing.

    Our vows shall not be valid vows; our prohibitions shall not be valid prohibitions;

    and our oaths shall not be valid oaths.

    I cannot envisage anything like this in Christian worship> Or am I lacking in understanding?

  3. Embertide, in England, is pretty much reduced to ordinations at Petertide, and some at Michaelmas. There have been attempts to revivifying, or reinvent, a calendar of agricultural festivals, in which the four Embertides play a part, but I don’t think many churches do much with these obscure midweek observances. That makes any connenction with Jewish feasts rather academic. As the major Jewish feasts are agricultural feasts overlaid with spiritual significance, drawing a connection with Ember Days is rather easy.

    There is a strong tradition of three-day fasts in the Christian calendar. Rogationtide is another one, complicated by being in Eastertide. The Syriac tradition, which I study, has the important ‘Rogation of the Ninevites’ (Ba’otha d-Ninwaye) as a three-day fast at Septuagesima. I have wondered whether today it might be more valuable for bishops to proclaim a three-day fast at a time of need. In fact, England retains the rule that bishops may declare Ember Days whenever they are needed.

    1. Yes, Gareth, there is a disconnect from nature in our digital age. Here in NZ the seasons are not connected to, for example, the equinox, but to the start of a month (totally arbitrary in relation to the movement of our planet). Churches provide daily readings for the Eucharist and the Daily Office. I think more people use these readings than you give credit. So I do think that noticing that for the first time in 2,000 years we have lost connection with our Jewish siblings is more than “rather academic”. If we are consciously doing this, we need to be open about this and explain why. If this is merely liturgical amnesia – then let’s rethink what has been done. Blessings.

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