The Ember Days

Today we celebrate the first of the September ember days, the quarter days as we also call them, the days of fasting and prayer by which the church sanctifies the four seasons of the year.

These days are of very ancient observance, rooted in pagan antiquity, as well as in Judaism, which is why today’s lessons are drawn from the Old Testament. And, as the first of these lessons reminds us, with its talk of the sower and the reaper and so forth, these observances were agricultural in origin. The September ember days correspond to the harvest festival of the Jews called Sukkot, the feast of tabernacles or booths, so called because the Jews put up booths and tents in their fields so they could work from first to last light, without having to add to their day by commuting to and from their homes. Amongst the pagans, it was the time when the grapes were harvested, and if you look at calendars from ancient Rome, for example, you will that September is often portrayed with images of vindemia, as the grape-gathering was called.

Since agricultural metaphors are used in the Gospel for ministry – Our Lord, for example, speaks of the laborers sent into the harvest, and of the workers in the vineyard – the ember days came to be ordination days, and from that they became also days to pray for the clergy, for clerical students, and for vocations to the ordained ministry.

And this is something for us all to do at this time. Pray for the clergy. Pray for those studying for the ministry, and those discerning their vocation, as well as for new vocations. As Our Lord Himself tells us, in words which well apply to these holy days: Pray the Lord of the Harvest, that He may send workers into the harvest.