September Ember Days

September 24, 2009

A painting of the September Ember Days by Abel Grimmer (1607)
A painting of the September Ember Days by Abel Grimmer (1607)

By Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP

Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 14th, are known as “Michaelmas Embertide,” and they come near the beginning of Autumn (September 22nd) and were formerly set aside as days of fasting and abstinence. The Lessons focus on the Old Covenant’s Day of Atonement and the fast of the seventh month, but start off with this prophecy from Amos 9:13-15 :

Behold the days come, when the ploughman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed, and the mountains shall dop sweetness, and every hill shall be tilled. And I will bring back the captivity of My people Israel, and they shall build the abandoned cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine of them; and shall make gardens and eat the fruits of them; and I will plant them upon their land: and I will no more pluck them out of their land which I have given them; saith the Lord thy God.

Like all Embertides but Whit Embertide, the Lessons end with the story of the three boys in the fiery furnace, as told by Daniel. The Gospel readings recount how Jesus exorcised demons from a possessed boy and tells the disciples about fasting to cast out unclean spirits (Matthew 9:16-28), forgave Mary Magdalen (Luke 7:36-50), and healed the woman on the sabbath after telling the parable of the fig tree (Luke 13:6-17). In the midst of this beautiful time, things wizen and seem to begin to die. The air grows cooler, the earth stiffens, the trees tire of holding their leaves. And during this waning we remember our dead — on November 1st, the victorious dead (All Saints’, or All Hallows Day), and on November 2nd, the dead being purified (All Souls’ Day).  These Days of the Dead begin with the eve of All Hallows, or “Hallowe’en,” an unofficial evening of remembering the frightening fate of the damned and how we can avoid it. There can’t be a more appropriate time for such a night than Autumn, when foggy mists are likely, and bonfires helpful.