This is the Ember Week of Spring. It is an ancient Christian tradition to offer the four seasons of the year to God through fixed days of prayer and fasting, called in English ‘the ember days’. The ember days of spring are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the first Sunday of Lent. The ember days of summer are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after Whitsunday. In autumn, they are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the Sunday that follows Holy Cross day; in winter, the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after Gaudete Sunday.

According to St Leo the Great, this tradition is of apostolic origin. Since it appears to have spread to the rest of the Church from Rome, we may suppose that it was an institution of the apostle Peter. St Augustine appears to be referring to it when he speaks of ‘the fasts that we celebrate through the days of the approaching Passover [i.e. through Lent], through the different seasons which are fixed for us in Christ’ (commentary on Ps 98, 5).

According to St Thomas Aquinas, this fourfold fast was foretold in the Old Testament by the prophet Zechariah. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah, joy and gladness, and great solemnities” (Zech. 8:19). These fasts were kept by the Jews in reparation for the sins that led to the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. They have become joy and gladness for us because we are being built as living stones into the heavenly Jerusalem.  As St Leo puts it:-

From the very hinges on which the world turns, as if by four gospels, we learn unceasingly what to preach and what to do.