This week is the autumnal Embertide, a quarterly liturgical emphasis that marks the change in seasons. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of Ember week are days that have a penitential flavor, as we use the change in the season to remind us to call upon God in humility, not taking for granted the the time we’re given on earth.
The word Ember originates from the Anglo-Saxon Ymbren, which means “circuit.” These were known as the “Ymbren Dagas” (“Ember Days”). Embertide originally had a close association with agriculture. This emphasis is now only retained in the fall, also known as the Michealmas Embertide.
The Ember season was embraced in Britain at the time of St. Augustine of Canterbury, in the year 597, with a mandate from Pope Gregory the Great. From Rome,the Ember days eventually spread to all of Western Christendom, though they didn’t appear in Gaul until the 8th century and in Spain until the 11th century. St. Charles Borromeo introduced them in Milan in the 16th century.
Let’s re-embrace this tradition that has such venerable roots.