In this category are all the posts for Ember Days and Rogation Days.
Ember Days were 3 days (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) set apart in each of the four seasons (winter, spring, summer and fall) for fasting, abstinence and prayer. The total number of Ember Days in the year were 12.
There are sermons from Pope Leo I (c. 450) that show the established Ember Days. The sermons can be found here, mixed with other sermons. There are 4 for the ember days of Pentecost, 9 for the ember days of September, and 9 for the ember days of December.
Father John F. Sullivan from The Externals of the Catholic Church explains the origin of the name:
These days, sometimes called the Quarter Tenses (Latin, “Quatuor Tempora,” the four times), occur at intervals of about 3 months…
Why are they called “Ember Days”? The words has nothing to do with embers or ashes. It may be from the Anglo-Saxon ymbren, a circle or revolution; or it may be a corruption of quatuor tempora; for in Dutch the name is “Quatertemper,” in German “Quatember,” and in Danish “Kvatember”–whence the transition to Ember Days is easy.
This practice was first established as a substitute for the pagan Roman tradition of fast days in June, September, and December to implore the gods and goddesses of agriculture the gift of many blessings on seedtime and harvest. The Church merely substituted the pagan deities for the one true God, and by the 5th century a fourth ember week was added. Pope St. Gregory VII assigned the definite dates we have now, and made the observance for the whole church.
From Pius Parsch, The Church’s Year of Grace, Volume 1:
The observance of the Ember Days, a most venerable feature of the liturgical calendar, dates back to early Roman antiquity (they are older than Advent). Pope Leo I (c. 450) has left a series of beautiful sermons for these days. Originally the Ember Days were an occasion of thanksgiving for the three great harvests of wheat, grapes, and olives — all very meaningful symbols employed by the liturgy. In the Offertory procession the faithful brought tithes of the harvest to be used for the offerings then and there, for the support of the church, and for the poor.
December Ember days are highly oriented towards Christmas. Before the four-week Advent was established, this was the ancient Advent observance before Christmas.
The dates are:
1) Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after St. Lucy day (Dec. 13)
2) Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after First Sunday of Lent
3) Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after Pentecost
4) Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the feast of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14)
The Roman calendar revision of 1969 made these Ember Days optional, up to the discretion of the National Conference of Bishops, and the bishops can extend the time of prayer to more than 3 days.
From the General Instruction on the Roman Missal:
VII. Rogation and Ember Days
45. On rogation and ember days the practice of the Church is to offer prayers to the Lord for the needs of all people, especially for the productivity of the earth and for human labor, and to give him public thanks.
46. In order to adapt the rogation and ember days to various regions and the different needs of the people, the conferences of bishops should arrange the time and plan for their celebration.
Consequently, the competent authority should lay down norms, in view of local conditions, on extending such celebrations over one or several days and on repeating them during the year.
47. On each day of these celebrations the Mass should be one of the votive Masses for various needs and occassions that is best suited for the intentions of the petitioners.
There is a different focus on each day of ember week:
Ember Wednesdays are dedicated to Mary; they are always “Mary’s Day”. All four ember Wednesdays were celebrated in the station church St. Mary Major. Wednesday, devoted to our Lady, is a day of reflection and spiritual orientation.
All four Ember Fridays take place in the stational church of the Basilica of the Apostles. I like how Father Parsch puts it: “Ember Friday is the liturgy’s ‘Yom Kippur.’” Friday emphasizes conversion and penance.
All the Ember Saturdays take place in the stational church of St. Peter. Saturday is a preview of Easter, and it marks the renewal of our baptismal covenant.
Father Strasser illustrates the different focus of each season. The harvests reflected the Mediterranean seasons, which don’t necessarily correspond to our crop harvests.
1. In spring, during the week after Ash Wednesday, to give thanks for the rebirth of nature and for the gift of light.
2. In summer, within the octave of Pentecost, to give thanks for the wheat crop.
3. In autumn, beginning on the Wednesday immediately after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14), to give thanks for the grape harvest.
4. In winter, within the week following the Feast of St. Lucy (December 13), during the third week of Advent, to give thanks for the olive crop.