The Ember Days are four groups each of three days in the Church year that have been observed as days of fasting in the Churches of the West. The origins and early purpose of the days are obscure. There originally were three groups of Ember Days, associated with the agricultural seasons of harvest, vintage, and seed-time. In this form the days date to the time of Callixtus, bishop of Rome (c. 220). The days were well-established by the time of St Leo the Great (mid-fifth century), who preached a series of Embertide sermons. From Rome their observance spread throughout the Western Church. In 1969 the traditional Ember Days were replaced in the Roman Catholic Church by days of prayer for various needs at times to be determined by regional conferences of bishops. According to the Book of Common Prayer, the Ember Days are traditionally observed on the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays after the First Sunday in Lent, the Day of Pentecost, Holy Cross Day (September 14), and December 13 (St Lucy’s Day). The weeks in which the Ember Days occur have customarily been called “Ember Weeks”.
From at least the fifth century, the Ember Days were noted as especially appropriate for ordinations, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer provides prayers for those preparing for Holy Orders for every day in the Ember Weeks. Modern Anglican liturgies preserve the association of Ember Days with the Church’s ministry, even though the times for ordinations are no longer reserved only to the Ember seasons, and the emphasis is generally on prayer for those who serve the Church in ordained ministry as well as for all Christians in their vocation and ministry.
While the Ember Days are not part of the Church’s sanctorale, those celebrations and commemorations kept on fixed days of the year, because the Ember seasons are determined in part by two such fixed days (St Lucy’s and Holy Cross), we will note them here. In the 1979 Prayer Book, three votives, each with appointed collects and lessons, are appointed under the heading “For the Ministry (Ember Days)” on pages 256 and 257. On each of the three successive Ember Days, I will post one of the three collects. It is suitable in private devotions to use the collect at any appropriate time; e.g., as one of the Collects at Morning or Evening Prayer after the Collect of the Day. In those churches that celebrate the Holy Eucharist on the Ember Days, it is appropriate to use the appointed collect and lessons; or if the Eucharist is celebrated with another appointed proper (of the day or the season), then the collect appointed for the Ember Day could be used at the conclusion of the Prayers of the People.
For those to be ordained
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 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.