Ember Days

In the little Episcopal prayer book I picked up at a used bookstore, the Psalms and lessons (Old & New Testament) are laid out for every day of the year.  I use the Psalm for each day, but have been plugging away at reading through both Isaiah and Hebrews so I generally don’t do those readings from the prayer book.

This week, however, each morning when I looked up what Psalm I was reading, I was reminded that we just celebrated Pentecost — called Whitsunday in the prayer book.  They actually have Whit Sunday, Whit Monday,  and Whit Tuesday — a three day celebration of the Holy Spirit’s grand entrance into our lives.

Then Wednesday is called Ember Wednesday.  We also have Ember Friday and Ember Saturday, followed by Trinity Sunday.

The readings for today, however, caught my eye.  Today is Ember Friday (more about that in a minute) and the readings were Isaiah 61 and 2 Corinthians 3.  I just read Isaiah 61 earlier this week, so I decided to go back to it, and 2 Corinthians 3 was a chapter I set out to memorize last summer, so it’s a favorite.  Here were the readings for this morning:

Psalms 122 and 125, Isaiah 61, 2 Cor 3

The Psalms are Psalms about Jerusalem and Mount Zion.  I don’t fully understand what makes those physical places so special to the Lord, but I know that they are.  If I could travel once internationally, it would be to Jerusalem.  I want to see the mountains around Jerusalem —

Psalm 125:2  As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds His people,
from this time forth and forevermore.

I want to see that city on a hill.  I want to walk through the gates.  I will continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. (Psalm 122:6)

Isaiah 61 begins with these words —

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me…

What a great reminder in the wake of Pentecost!

And then 2 Corinthians 3, words so familiar to me —

12Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16But whenone turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

I love the picture of Moses’ face shining  after being with the Lord.  I love that the veil is removed.  I love that we are being changed from one degree of glory to another.  I love that the Holy Spirit has written on our hearts a letter of recommendation from Christ to all men (see verses 2-3).  What great reminders for this morning of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life!

Now back to Ember Friday.  Here’s what I found when I searched it:

The Ember Days are a perfect example of how the Church (in the words of the Catholic Encyclopedia) “has always tried to sanctify any practices which could be utilized for a good purpose.” The adoption of the Ember Days wasn’t an attempt to displace Roman paganism so much as it was a way to avoid disrupting the lives of Roman converts to Christianity. The pagan practice, though directed at false gods, was praiseworthy; all that was necessary was to transfer the supplications to the true God of Christianity.

The adoption of Ember Days by Christians happened so early that Pope Leo the Great (440-61) considered the Ember Days (with the exception of the one in the spring) to have been instituted by the Apostles. By the time of Pope Gelasius II (492-96), the fourth set of Ember Days had been instituted. Originally celebrated only by the Church in Rome, they spread throughout the West (but not the East), starting in the fifth century.

The origin of the word “ember” in “Ember Days” is not obvious, not even to those who know Latin. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Ember” is a corruption (or we might say, a contraction) of the Latin phrase Quatuor Tempora, which simply means “four times,” since the Ember Days are celebrated four times per year.

from About.com on Catholicism

If Ember Days are four times a year, it isn’t apparent from the prayer book I have.  I’m not quite sure what they’re all about in today’s world and will do further looking…


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