Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Third (Gaudéte) Sunday of Advent—14 December AD 2014

The Mass in Latin and English
Third Sunday of Advent
Dominica Tertia Adventus

Ember Days in Advent

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.”

    Today is “Gaudéte Sunday,” from the Latin word that begins both the Introit and the Epistle—“Rejoice.”  No doubt you noticed the rose colored vestments when you came into the church this morning—they are intended to moderate the penitential purple worn on the other days of the Advent season.  The rejoicing comes from the realization that Christmas is rapidly approaching—the birthday of our Infant Lord.

    The Jews of Christ’s time had been waiting for four thousand years for their redemption, so you can imagine the joy felt by the few who had the first notice that the Redeemer was about to be born.  It would be good to spend a few minutes after Mass this morning, considering the joy that began with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and spread to Elizabeth and Zachary, and to Saint Joseph.  Not only was a baby boy to be born, but that boy would be the hope of all mankind, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Adam and Eve after their fall from grace, as He spoke to the serpent:  “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.[1]  The “seed” of that most blessed woman was soon to be born.

    The Ember Days of Advent will fall on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of this coming week.  I am occasionally asked about the origin and meaning of the various Ember Days—so here are a few observations.

    The word “ember” may come from the Anglo-Saxon word which means “cyclical,” referring to the fact that these three days repeat every season, and repeat every year.  Or the word may be a corruption of the Latin “quatuor tempora,” the “four times,” or seasons in which they occur.  In some Romance languages this is shortened to “tempora” which could be mistaken for “ember.”

    Almost certainly, the Ember Days originated in Rome with an attempt to Christianize the three harvest festivals observed by the pagan Romans—the pagans prayed to their false “gods” for agricultural success with the harvest, with the wine making, and with the seed production and planting for the following year.  At least as early as the reign of Pope Calixtus I (217-222), Catholics fasted and prayed to the true God for these same agricultural favors.  By the time of Pope Saint Leo the Great (440 - 461), the days were assigned to each season of the year—spring, summer, fall, and winter—and no longer were identified with a particular agricultural event. They were observed “to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy.”[2]

    The three days in each season were Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, all of which were significant in the early Church, being associated with fasting and abstinence.  All three days must fall within the same week.  In the spring that week follows Ash Wednesday; in the summer it follows Pentecost;  in the fall the Exaltation of the Holy Cross;  and Saint Lucy’s feast day in the winter.  The Ember Day observance spread gradually throughout the Western Church, becoming obligatory only during the reign of Pope Saint Gregory VII (1073-1085).

    Traditionally, the Ember Saturdays are the days on which ordinations are conferred.  The six or seven readings prescribed on these Saturdays allow for each of the minor and major Holy Orders to be conferred between readings.  It is a holy custom to attend Mass on the Ember Saturdays and to pray for all those who will be ordained to Holy Orders throughout the entire Church.  It is through them that we will have Holy Mass and the Sacraments; through them that we will receive the Bread of Life.

    I mentioned that the Ember Days are observed “to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy.”  Giving thanks for God’s bounty should always be part of our prayer—it is the mark of an adult that his prayers are not limited to asking for things for himself, but also include adoration of God, prayers for others, and thanksgiving for favors received.

    Fasting and abstinence on the Ember Days help us to practice moderation in the use of food, drink, and other physical things.  Learning how to refuse the legitimate pleasures of life will make it a bit easier to resist the illegitimate pleasures with which we may occasionally be tempted.

    And, finally, the fasting and abstinence should remind us that we can afford to share our many blessings with the needy.  This is not just a matter of generosity.  We can read in Saint Matthew’s Gospel that our Lord understands that caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned is an obligation—the same as caring for Him.[3]  Those who care for Him are “the just.’  But failure to do these things is to fail to do them for Him.  “And [those who fail] shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.” [4]

    God has given us His priesthood to feed us with the Bread of Heaven.  He has given us his bounty to meet our material needs.  He has given us the means to learn self-control, and the means to care for the needy.

So, let us “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.”


[2]   The Catholic Encyclopedia s.v. “Ember Days”


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