Did you know that during the Middle Ages, the feast of St. Michael, referred to as "Michaelmas", was one of the biggest feasts of the year, as it marked the turning point between autumn and winter? Throughout the middle ages, people used feasts, rather than months, to create time, as you see in novels that take place during that period. For example, in the all-time classic Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, which takes place in 14th century Norway, you see this quite frequently, as when her wedding approaches, the text reads: "They were to be wedded the second Sunday after Michaelmas." There is even a direct reference to the Embertide fast: "Holy-cross Day came in the autumn with its procession, then there was the fast before Michaelmas."
For those of you who are still a little fuzzy on what Ember days are and what they are for, (let's be honest that's most of us nowadays) here is a little summary. Ember days were instituted as times for the whole Church to come together to fast and pray, to ask the Lord for good crops, and to offer thanksgiving for the previous season’s harvest. These fasts were always done on a consecutive Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday — the traditional weekdays for fasting. Pope Gregory VII officially prescribed the four seasonal Embertides to occur during the weeks following the feast of St. Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Whitsunday, and the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
An old mnemonic used to remember the four Embertides went like this:
Sant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia
Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria.
Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost,
are when the quarter holidays follow.
Since most of you probably will struggle a little remembering that, a much shorter and easier to remember mnemonic that may be helpful is: “Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy.”
Each season has also become associated with what that season’s crop lends to the Liturgy. Thus, in winter, we give thanks for olives, which we use for the holy oils of the Church; in spring, we give thanks for the flowers and the bees, which produce the wax used for our candles; in summer, we give thanks for the wheat harvest, which we need to make the bread that will become the Body of Christ; and in fall, we give thanks for the grape harvest, which we use to make the wine that will be transformed into Christ’s Blood.
When we were creating the Fiat Planner, we wanted to include some sort of graphic for each season's Embertide, that showed the symbolism behind each. After scouring the internet for inspiration, we came up pretty empty-handed, and that's when we realized that these graphics may be needed beyond the planner, as a visual means of explaining the four Embertides. Each graphic has the season's crop, along with it's part in the liturgy, as the main focus, while the four corners of the frame have reminders for each of the four seasons. We have also turned these graphics into coloring pages, which we want to share with you for free. We think having kids color these images will go much farther in helping them understand and retain what each Embertide is about than any explanation could. Click here for the coloring pages, and share this with anyone who would find this useful. Happy Feast of St. Matthew the Evangelist!