Archive for September 2012

Autumn Ember Wednesday

September 19, 2012

Blessed Ember Wednesday!

And no, “ember” in this case has nothing to do with fire.
There are conflicting explanations of the origin & meaning of the word in this context, but they all have to do with the four seasons.

“Thus says 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: only love ye truth and peace.”
-Zachariah 8:19

The Ember Days are times of prayer, fasting and partial abstinence
at the beginning of each of the four seasons–
the consecutive Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
after Ash Wednesday, after Pentecost, after the Exaltation of the Cross (Sept. 14) & after St. Lucy (Dec. 13).
One memory aid was the phrase “ashes, dove, cross, Lucy”.

They were definitely arranged and prescribed for the universal Church
by Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085),
but the practise of setting aside days to sanctify the seasons
goes back to the Early Church–Pope Leo the Great (440-461)
said that it went back to the Apostles themselves.

The partial abstinence means that meat was only taken at one meal of the day on Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays (Fridays are already meatless).

Wednesday and Friday were selected
because these were the days of penance observed by the Early Church
in place of the Jewish practise of fasting on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Christians fasted on Wednesdays (the day Christ was betrayed)
and Fridays (in honor of Good Friday).
Saturdays were added as the culmination of the Ember week,
with a procession to St. Peter’s in Rome and an all-night vigil.

The Ember Days are meant to sanctify each season as it arrives.
The purpose of these days of fasting, abstinence and almsgiving,
besides the general one intended by all prayer and fasting,
was to thank God for the gifts of nature,
to teach men to make use of them in moderation,
and to assist the needy.
They are seasonal “days of recollection”, or spiritual renewal,
as well as days to ask God to bless the fruits of the earth
and to thank Him for the blessings He has provided.
They give us time to reflect on the beauty of the seasons
and what they can teach us about God and Heaven.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that
“the beauty of spring, the brightness of summer,
the plenty of autumn, the rest of winter”
are foreshadowings of the wonders of our eternal home.

Ordinations came to be held during the Ember days,
so Ember Days are also good times to pray for vocations and for priests
(for Scriptural precedence for fasting and ordination going together,
see Acts 13:2, 14:23).

The Saturday of the Ember Days is the most important–
at one time an all night vigil was held at the end of the Ember Days
from Saturday night to the following Sunday morning.

With the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969,
the Vatican left the celebration of Ember Days
up to the discretion of each national conference of bishops.
In the United States,
the bishops’ conference has decided not to celebrate them,
but many dioceses around the world still do.
Even in the U.S., a few dioceses, individual Catholics, a number of Religious orders and most Latin Mass organizations
still observe the Ember Days.

The autumn Ember Days are especially associated with the grape harvest, from which is made the wine that becomes the Most Precious Blood of Our Savior when it is consecrated in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Here’s what our “Cathedral” Daily Missal (1961) says about today:


1. Joy: The autumnal Ember Days were profoundly influenced by the two Jewish feasts of the season–The Feast of Tabernacles and the Day of Expiation. In the Lesson (Amos 9:13-15) the prophet foretold in the 8th century B.C. the return of the Jews from captivity and the restoration of their country. Later on Nehemias [Nehemiah] and Esdras [Ezra] brought back the Jewish captives into the promised land, and rebuilt the temple, and restored the reading of the Law (Offeratory) and religious services. The captivity and the restoration of the Jewish people were considered as a prophetical image of our Fall and Redemption. The rich harvests were regarded as the symbol of the bountiful graces of the new dispensation of the Spirit (Introit).

2. Repentance: The Jewish day of rigorous expiation, the Day of Atonement, has also left its impress on today’s Mass. In the first and second Collects we pray that God in His mercy and pity would uphold our weakness and renew our strength, and give us the grace to abstain from sin. In the Gospel Our Lord reminds us that demons can be cast out of our lives only “by prayer and fasting.” In the Secret we beseech the Lord to wash away our sins and sanctify us both in body and soul.

3. Remedies against future sins: How are we to meet temptations, neutralize the power of Satan, and avoid sin? Today’s Mass suggests the following remedies:
1) Faith in Christ’s divine power and the efficacy of His merits (Gospel)
2) Prayer for the help of God’s grace (I Collect)
3) fasting from food and from evil inclinations (II Collect)
4) Repentance of our sins (Secret)
5) Reception of the Eucharist, the memorial of Our Lord’s Passion and Death, by which Satan was overcome (Communion)

Freedom from sins and a virtuous life
constitute the only true joy and happiness on earth.

Religion study: Sorrow for sin

May God bless your prayers to sanctify the season
and your prayers for His priests–
and may He give you a taste for fish ;)!

St. Thérèse’s Prayer for Priests

‘O Holy Father, may the torrents of love
flowing from the sacred wounds of Thy Divine Son
bring forth priests like unto the beloved disciple John
who stood at the foot of the Cross;
priests: who as a pledge of Thine own most tender love
will lovingly give Thy Divine Son to the souls of men.

May Thy priests be faithful guardians of Thy Church,
as John was of Mary, whom he received into his house.
Taught by this loving Mother
who suffered so much on Calvary,
may they display a mother’s care and thoughtfulness
towards Thy children.
May they teach souls to enter into close union with Thee
through Mary who, as the Gate of Heaven,
is specially the guardian of the treasures
of Thy Divine Heart.

Give us priests who are on fire,
and who are true children of Mary,
priests who will give Jesus to souls
with the same tenderness and care
with which Mary carried the Little Child of Bethlehem.

Mother of sorrows and of love,
out of compassion for Thy beloved Son,
open in our hearts deep wells of love,
so that we may console Him
and give Him a generation of priests formed in thy school
and having all the tender thoughtfulness
of thine own spotless love.’

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