Rorate Caeli

Ember Days during Pentecost

One of the most curious things concerning the traditional liturgical calendar, at least to this writer, is the placement of the summer Ember Days during the octave of Pentecost.  Today is Ember Wednesday, a first class liturgy.  But, if one follows the discipline of the Church in place during the 1962 calendar, it is also a day of fasting and partial abstinence (one full meal with meat and two small meatless meals).

The Ember Days this week -- Ember Wednesday, Ember Friday and Ember Saturday -- have a unique feature compared to the other nine Ember Days.  All Masses this week are with red vestments.  The Alleluia is said/sung.  The Pentecost sequence is said/sung.  It is still Pentecost.  But three Ember Days are within the octave.

An interesting piece of trivia is that there was a time in the Church's history where this curious mix of feast and fast was severed.  The Ember Days were observed as Masses during the octave of Pentecost like the 1962 calendar.  But their corresponding fast and abstinence disciplines were delayed a few weeks.  That ended when Pope Gregory VII in the 11th century treated the summer Ember Days like the other three seasons, with fasts on all three days, partial abstinence on Ember Wednesday and Ember Saturday and, of course, complete abstinence on Ember Friday.

This is all a moot point with the novus ordo, as Paul VI virtually eliminated the Ember Days and almost all fasting and abstinence in the 1960s.

But it remains a very interesting week for those who follow the traditional calendar and voluntarily follow the disciplines in place during the 1962 calendar, including Ember Day fasting and abstinence.  A week of festive Pentecost Masses, yet with three days of penance during the octave, the way it was under pain of mortal sin from the late 11th century through the late 20th century.

Having said that, the purpose of the Ember Days outweighs everything else:  priests.  This week, during the Ember Days, we pray for many more.


  1. Ryan Ellis2:31 PM

    How did this interact with the elevation of all days in the Pentecost Octave to first class in 1961?

    Even if that didn't change the discipline at the time, it would seem to for traditional Catholics today. The 1983 CIC waives fast and abstinence on solemnities (a synonym for a first class day in the Ex Form).

    Personally, I follow traditional fast and abstinence on all Lenten ferias, Fridays, vigils, Rogation Days, and Ember Days. But during the Pentecost Octave, I consider the first class status of the days to waive this. But that's just me.

  2. Our family attends the TLM. When our daughter became engaged to a NO Catholic, she mentioned that a specific upcoming day was an Ember Day. Her fiance said, "what's an Ember Day?" He has since been educated on this.

  3. Fr. Dennis4:45 PM

    If I remember correctly, the ember days are older than the octave. The ember days were originally placed so as to be outside of paschaltide. When the octave was instituted, the ember days were left in place. If we return to the traditional practice of the Roman Church, according to which Pentecost Monday and Tuesday are higher in rank than the other days of the octave, the incongruity of the 1962 calendar would be pretty much eliminated.

  4. The Pentecost Octave was elevated to a double of the first class in 1955. The 1961 merely removed the "double" terminology.

    I have seen no indication that the elevation of the Pentecost Octave implied the suppression of Ember Days. It just meant that other feasts and commemorations couldn't take their place in the Mass and Divine Office.

  5. One of the biggest joys of my convert spouse is to participate in Catholic fasting and abstinence. And that was BEFORE the realization of the infinite merits to be obtained.

    Such a small penance to make. Much harder penances for souls long ago and if they knew the value of them they embraced them with fervor and gratitude. With the world on the edge of the abyss of hell, our household keeps a penance of some sort every day of the year.

    "No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish." How a pope could remove this means of aid for our salvation is beyond me. Didn't Paul VI remove many previously granted indulgences? And then to remove the other means of a shortened sentence in Purgatory? Who was responsible for the standard Friday fast in the Novus Ordo? What kind of a shepherd left in charge of Christ's souls would do such a shameful and irresponsible thing? A bad one. That is what kind.

  6. Offer your fast for Pope and SSPX matter!

  7. Mr Wolfe,

    Thank you for this illuminating piece, you do us all great service by posting it. Speaking for myself, I need to know more about my faith, it is very strong, Yes, strong, but poorly informed. You are helping me.

    The truth is that we ought to build our lives around these special days in the liturgy, so much time and consideration went into establishing the sacred liturgy of our church. The Church Fathers knew what they were about, defo.

    We should concentrate more on this sort of topic, IMNSHO, than squandering precious time on baseless speculations about Pope Benedict and the SSPX, praise God for them both.

  8. TRex:
    Good questions. Who indeed would would remove the practices of such penances and indulgences? I would ask you look at an equally egregious action by those inside the church seeking to hinder our salvation. The life of St. Philomena. Once, one of the most treasured saints reduced to "legend" in 1961 by Rome. Her feast day removed in many places. The miracles are so vast I cannot list them, but I post this website for you and others to read.


  9. What kind of a shepherd left in charge of Christ's souls would do such a shameful and irresponsible thing? A bad one. That is what kind.

    Perhaps; but, equally likely, the thought was that, by removing the manifold "little" obligations placed on Catholics on pain of sin, the Church was no longer consigning many people to sin when She lifted these obligations. Are the merits achieved by fulfilling these obligations any less--or are they greater--when they are carried out purely from a sense of duty, rather than a sense of obedience? What you refer to as a means of salvation has not been removed at all; it's still "fun," but it's no longer "mandatory fun." The pious folk that were fulfilling these salutary obligations before were mostly going to keep doing them anyway; those that weren't at least would not have the weight of sin on them by failing to meet their obligations.

    The prudence of such a step can be criticized (and there are signs such thinking is abating, see the English bishops' stance on Friday abstinence), but let's not attribute to malice what we can simply chalk up to our Church's shepherds' imprudence.

  10. Donald Taylor1:56 AM

    This coming Ember Saturday of Pentecost, Bishop Joseph Perry will celebrate a Pontifical Mass at the magnificent St. Andrew's Church in Calumet City, just outside of Chicago.

    A polyphonic Mass by Orlando de Lassus will be sung under the direction of Mr. Timothy Woods.

    The occasion marks the sixth anniversary of the first Saturday TLM there.

  11. @ TRex, who said, "What kind of a shepherd left in charge of Christ's souls would do such a shameful and irresponsible thing? A bad one. That is what kind."

    It is not our place to judge a Pope. We are free to follow the Traditional Calendar - let's do that instead of speculate about the level of holiness of a past pope.

  12. Robert6:15 AM

    Please make a post about this if you are able, thanks.

    "The International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fátima will be visiting two New Jersey cemeteries including Gate of Heaven on June 5."

    "We invite New Jersey residents and all Catholic families alike to attend, pray and rejoice with us in the welcoming of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima," said Andrew Shafer, the executive director of the Archdiocese.


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