I don’t know about you, but when I first heard about “Ember Days,” I thought of a dying fire!

However, when I began my ordination process, I quickly found out that Ember Days are about ordination and Holy Orders, not about fireplaces.

What are Ember Days?

As the 2019 ACNA BCP notes, “Ember Days are set aside for prayers for those called to Holy Orders, and occur on the following Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays:”

  • After St. Lucy’s Day (December 13)
  • After the First Sunday in Lent
  • After the Day of Pentecost
  • After Holy Cross Day (September 14)

This means that there are four sets of Ember Days, one for each season of the year—winter, spring, summer, and autumn.

Where did Ember Days come from?

According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the “early history and original purpose” of Ember Days “are obscure.”

At first there were apparently only three groups, perhaps taken over from the pagan religious observances connected with harvest, vintage, and seed-time; in this form they traditionally date back to the time of Pope Callistus I (c.220) and were certainly well established at Rome in the time of Pope Leo (440–61), who preached a series of Embertide sermons. From Rome their observance spread through W(estern) Christendom. In 1969 in the R(oman) C(Catholic) Church the traditional Ember days were replaced by days of prayer for various needs at times to be determined by regional conferences of bishops. From at least the 5th cent. the Ember seasons were recognized as esp. appropriate for Ordinations, and the BCP provides prayers for those ‘to be admitted into Holy Orders’ to be said every day in the Ember Weeks. The association of Ember days with prayer for ordination candidates is preserved in modern Anglican liturgies, even when the usual times for Ordinations has changed.

Why are they called “Ember” Days?

This is debated. The Latin name for these days is Quatuor tempora or “four times.”

One theory is that “Ember” comes from the Latin Quatuor becoming Quatember in German. At some point we dropped the beginning of the word and just kept the “ember” ending in English.

The other theory is that “Ember” comes from the Old English ymbren meaning “recurring,” a reference to the fact that Ember Days recur throughout the year every year. (However, so do all the other special days of the Church year!)

What do we do on Ember Days?

Well, if you’re a postulant or a candidate for Holy Orders—if you’re in the ordination process—then you’re required to write an Ember Day Letter to your Bishop!

Here’s how The Episcopal Church’s Glossary defines “Ember Day Letter”:

Every postulant or candidate for holy orders in the Episcopal Church is required by canon to report to the bishop four times a year, during the Ember Weeks. The report must be made in person or by letter, and must include reflection on the person’s academic experience as well as personal and spiritual development.

What if you’re not in the ordination process? Well, Ember Days have traditionally been dedicated to fasting and prayer—specifically prayer for those (about to be) ordained to Holy Orders in the Church.

Ember Days are a great time for all Christians to pray for all Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.

Collects for Ember Days

If you’re searching for something specific to pray on Ember Days, the 2019 ACNA BCP provides two Collects. First:

Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts, in your divine providence you have appointed various orders in your Church: Give your grace, we humbly pray, to all who are (now) called to any office and ministry for your people; and so fill them with the truth of your doctrine and clothe them with holiness of life, that they may faithfully serve before you, to the glory of your great Name and for the benefit of your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

And second:

O God, you led your holy apostles to ordain ministers in every place: Grant that your Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the extension of your kingdom; through the great Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings for Ember Days

The 2019 ACNA BCP provides the following Sunday/Eucharistic readings for Ember Days

Ember Days I

  • Num 11:16-17, 24-29
  • Ps 99
  • 1 Cor 3:5-11
  • John 4:31-38

Ember Days II

  • 1 Sam 3:1-10
  • Ps 63:1-8
  • Eph 4:11-16
  • Matt 9:35-38

Want to learn more about Ember Days?

Check out this article from the Catholic Encyclopedia, as well as the Wikipedia page for “Ember Days.”

If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments below!