EMBER DAYS are times of prayer traditionally observed by the Christian Church on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday near the beginning of each of the four seasons of the year. The term “ember” is derived from the Old English ymbryne, meaning “circuit” or “course (of time).”
The ember days apparently originated in an ancient adaptation of pagan feasts of planting and harvest. The observance of ember days as special times of thanksgiving, prayer, and penance, and also as days on which clerics were ordained, was at first a local custom in the church at Bome but gradually spread throughout the Western Church. During the 7th century, the spring ember days were observed during the first week of Lent. The time of other ember days varied until the llth century, when their observance was set for the week after Pentecost (Whitsunday), the third week of September, and the third week of Advent.
Since 1966 the decision whether and when to observe ember days has been left to the national bishops’ conferences in the Roman Catholic Church.