What are "Ember Days?"
Four times during the liturgical year we have what are called "Ember Days." These days were originally recognized in pagan Rome and were celebrations or honorings of the Roman agricultural gods for the different seasons as there were different plantings and harvesting for each of the seasons. After Rome converted to Christianity in the fourth century, the Church, rather than drop these celebrations entirely, converted them to have Christian meaning. Originally there were only three Ember Weeks, which were remembered with specific periods of fasting (Winter, Summer and Fall), the fourth (Spring) was later (but still quite early) added. All four are mentioned as early as the late fifth century by Pope Gelasius. Pope Callixtus I teaches of the (three) seasons of fasting in the early third century (100 years before Rome became Christian).
Does "Ember" Mean a Burning Coal?
No, the etymology begins with the Latin used by Pope Leo in the mid fifth century jejunium vernum, aestivum, autumnale and hiemale and the English "ember" comes to us from the Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) heritage with the word "ymbren" which literally means a running cycle, or annual cycle - which is what the ember cycle represents.
What is the Fast for Ember Days?
During an Ember Week, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are the Ember Days. It is actually a partial fast. On these days we are to have just one full meal (can include meat) and two smaller, meatless meals - on Ember Fridays we also abstain from meat as well as keeping the fast.
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