The following was composed by The Rev. Fr. Mark Braden of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Detroit, MI and was published in the Easter 2014 Issue of Gottesdienst. 

Taking Pains: Rogation Days and Ember Days

Two historic liturgical observances with ancient roots and rich theology are seemingly becoming lost among us.  They are the observances of Rogation Days and of Ember Days.

The Fifth Sunday after Easter is Rogate Sunday.  This Sunday, unlike the other Sundays in Eastertide, takes its name not from the first word of the Introit as is common, but rather from the observance of the three days that follow:  Rogation Days.
These days of penitence and prayer were historically observed on April 25 (the Major Rogation, the celebration of which predates the observance of the Feast of St. Mark), and on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord.  The name “Rogation” is derived from the Latin rogare, “to ask.”

Rogation Days are said to have been introduced “about the year 470” by St. Mamertus, Bishop of Vienna,[1] when the ripening crops were threatened by volcano.[2]

The liturgical observance of Rogation Days included a processional outside the church building in which the Litany was sung, for the purpose of asking God to keep the plantings healthy and bring forth a bountiful harvest. The processional immediately followed the Office of None (3:00 p.m.).  Starting at the foot of the Chancel, the processional left the church, continued around the village, and ended back at the altar. Holy Mass followed immediately.[3] 

The observance of Rogation Days, and with it the chanting of the Litany in processional “may laudably be continued” among us.[4]  The Litany sung in processional is followed by the chanting of Psalm 70, and “appropriate prayers”.[5]  For the Mass following the Processional, the Paschal Candle (present in the Chancel until Ascension, then extinguished and removed) remains unlit, the Gloria in Excelsis and the Creed are omitted, and the Easter Preface is used.[6] Because of the penitential nature of the Rogation Days, the proper liturgical color is violet.  Rogate Sunday retains the color of Easter, white.

If April 25th falls on Easter or in its Octave, the Feast of St. Mark is transferred beyond the Octave, but the Rogation procession and litanies are transferred to the Tuesday in the Octave.[7] If only one Mass is celebrated the Wednesday before the Ascension, the Vigil of the Ascension is observed.

Ember Days are days of prayer and fasting, and of giving thanks to God for the bounty of His creation.  They are observed four times a year:  the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the Commemoration of St. Lucy (December 13), after Ash Wednesday, after Whitsunday, and after Holy Cross (September 14).  The name “Ember” is thought to be derived from the Latin QuattuorTempora (four seasons).  On Ember Days the faithful brought portions of the harvest as an offering, which supported the church, and were at times distributed to the poor.[8]

“Originally the Ember Days were an occasion of thanksgiving for the three great harvests of wheat, grapes, and olives – all very meaningful nature symbols employed by the liturgy.”[9] Parsch notes that the observance of Ember Days predates the observance of Advent.  The Pentecost Ember Days may be a remnant of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:34).[10]
Fasting has long been an integral part of the observance of Ember Days, “for fasting has ever been the nourishment of virtue.”[11] Since the sixth century Ember Saturdays have been recognized as appropriate for ordination, which was always preceded by fasting.[12]

The rubrics for the Holy Mass on Ember Days vary significantly between the liturgical seasons and between the days themselves, so a rubrical manual should be consulted for their proper observance.  Generally, as outlined in The Celebration of the Mass,[13] on Wednesdays and Saturdays the Salutation before the Collect is omitted.[14]  The Celebrant calls all to kneel (flectamusgenua) for silent prayer, and then to stand before the Collect.  The Handbook of Ceremonies for Priests and Seminarians designates the server as the one who speaks the Levate.[15]

At least one additional Scripture reading is heard, and a second Collect follows the Gradual, this time preceded by the Salutation. The Gloria in Excelsis, if used, may be spoken by the Celebrant before the Salutation preceding the reading of the Holy Gospel.

Ember Saturday in Pentecost is quite different.  The Flectamusgenuais not said, the Gradual is replaced by an additional Alleluia verse, and the Sequence is used.[16] Six readings are paired with their own unique Collects.  Historically, ordinations followed the readings in this order:  Door-keepers, Lectors, Exorcists, Acolytes, Subdeacons, Deacons, and “before the last verse of the Tract, the Priests.”[17]

The liturgical color for the Ember Days in Pentecost is red, for the Ember Days of the other seasons the liturgical color is violet.


[1] Fortescue, Adrian, The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, 7th ed., rev. & edited by J.O. Connell [London: Burns, Oates & Washburn LTD, 1943], 335 n. 2)

[2] The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed., E.A. Livingstone, editor [New York: Oxford University Press, 1997], 1405.

[3] Fortescue, 336.

Ritual Notes,8th ed., Henry Cairncross, E.C.R. Lamburn, G.A.C. Whatton [London: W. Knott & Son Ltd., 1935],150.

[4] Lang, Paul H.D., Ceremony and Celebration, [St. Louis: CPH, 1965. Reprinted Fort Wayne: Redeemer Press, 2004], 158. 

[5] ibid.

[6] Ritual Notes, 150.

[7] Fortescue, 336

[8] Parsch, Pious, The Church’s Year of Grace, vol. 1 [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1962],104.

[9] Parsch, 104.

[10] The Saint Andrew Daily Missal (Lefebvre, Dom Gaspar [Great Falls, Montana: St. Bonaventure Publications, 1999],887.

[11] St. Leo, 461 A. + D.

[12] The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, Bradshaw, P. editor [Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002], 165.

[13] O’Connell, J.B., The Celebration of Mass, 4th ed. [Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1964], 235-6.

[14] although the Sarumuse retains it. The Sarum Missal in English, Pearson, A.H., trans. [Eugene, Oregon: Wipf& Stock, 2004], 7.

[15]  Mueller, John Baptist, 10th ed. [St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1940], 80.

[16] O’Connell 235-6. 

[17] The St. Andrew Missal, 887.