Today is the first of three Winter Ember Days. Pre-Vatican II the Catholic Church would mark the passage of seasons through the Ember Days both liturgically, in the Mass & Liturgy of the Hours, as well as through personal penance, through fasting & abstinence from meat. The Ember Days will coincide with the changing of one season to the other, Winter begins December 21st this year and the Winter Ember Days are December 19th, 21st, and 22nd.
These days were set aside to give thanks to God for the season and the new Harvest. For Winter the Harvest would be the olives for olive oil. A food that plays an integral role both physically in our everyday cooking, who doesn’t love a little bit of EVOO with their food, and spiritually through the Sacramental Oils.
By celebrating the Ember Days the Church reminded us of the passage of time and our spiritual connection to our physical bodies and physical word. And while the US Bishops have not made it mandatory for us to fast and abstain on the Ember Days they did release this statement:
Vigils and Ember Days, as most now know, no longer oblige to fast and abstinence. However, the liturgical renewal and the deeper appreciation of the joy of the holy days of the Christian year will, we hope, result in a renewed appreciation as to why our forefathers spoke of “a fast before a feast.” We impose no fast before any feast-day, but we suggest that the devout will find greater Christian joy in the feasts of the liturgical calendar if they freely bind themselves, for their own motives and in their own spirit of piety, to prepare for each Church festival by a day of particular self-denial, penitential prayer and fasting.USCCB Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence, http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/us-bishops-pastoral-statement-on-penance-and-abstinence.cfm
So this year I am celebrating the Ember Days. I may even enjoy some Tempura, which was founded to celebrate the Ember Days.