A – Month of the Harvest

Since man is both a spiritual and physical being, the Church provides for the needs of man in his everyday life. The Church’s liturgy and feasts in many areas reflect the four seasons of the year (spring, summer, fall and winter). The months of August, September, October and November are part of the harvest season, and as Christians we recall God’s constant protection over his people and give thanksgiving for the year’s harvest.

The September Ember Days were particularly focused on the end of the harvest season and thanksgiving to God for the season. Ember Days were three days (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) set aside by the Church for prayer, fasting and almsgiving at the beginning of each of the four seasons of the year. The ember days fell after December 13, the feast of St. Lucy (winter), after the First Sunday of Lent (spring), after Pentecost Sunday (summer), and after September 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (fall). These weeks were known as the quattor tempora, the “four seasons.”

Since the late 5th century, the Ember Days were also the preferred dates for ordination of priests. So during these times the Church had a threefold focus: (1) sanctifying each new season by turning to God through prayer, fasting and almsgiving; (2) giving thanks to God for the various harvests of each season; and (3) praying for the newly ordained and for future vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Since the reorganization of the Roman calendar in 1969 after the Second Vatican Council, Ember Days are still retained in principle, but how and when they are to be observed is at the discretion of each country’s Episcopal Conference. There is no longer set Mass readings for the Ember Days in the Ordinary Rite.

Another harvest feast is September 29, the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Before the revision of the calendar, this used to be only the feast of St. Michael. In many countries this day was referred to as “Michaelmas” and is celebrated with traditional foods and customs.