“Who then is so wretched and pitiable, that beholding the heavens; and beholding sea, and land; and beholding the exact adjustment of the seasons, and the unfailing order of day and night, he can think that these things happen of their own accord, instead of adoring Him Who has arranged them all with a corresponding wisdom!”
– St. John Chrysostom, Homily IX, 4th century.
(same as last post)
[NOTE: Numerous articles written by good authors can be found on the history and meaning of ember days. The following is only a mere clumsy overview. It is an old tradition among Western rite Catholics and Anglican Protestants.]
Four times a year, while marking the end of one season and the beginning of the next, we are grateful for God’s glorious and marvelous creation! In our stewardship of this creation we should be especially mindful of being temperate and moderate towards our own needs, while being generous towards the needs of others. Therefore, four times a year we pray, fast, abstain from meat, read extra scriptures, and give charitable donations during a time called Embertide, or Four Seasons (Quatuor Tempora). The days of each embertide are a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday within one week.
These four-times-a-year fasts are rooted in the Old Testament practices of fasting four times a year, which were a unique blend of joy, gladness, moderation, and penance. (Zach. 8:19)
The reason there are three days that make up an Embertide is in order to make penitential amends for our failures over the previous three-month season. It was also to temper three aspects of our spirit: the understanding, the will, and the mind.
It is interesting to note that the Old Testament Israelites did weekly penance (fast, abstain, etc) on Tuesdays and Thursdays every week of the year, and that for centuries the Christian Church did their weekly fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. Wednesday memorializes when Judas betrayed Jesus, and Friday marks when our Lord was crucified. Therefore, an Embertide week only added a third day to the already existent weekly Christian custom: Saturday, when the Lord lay in the Sepulcher while the apostles were sore of heart.
In addition to the extra liturgical scripture readings assigned to the different Embertides, called Lessons, there are other scriptures customary for private meditation during this time of admiring God’s providential handiwork! Examples:
- Ecclesiasticus 43 (The firmament on high is his beauty, the beauty of heaven . . )
- Psalm 103 (Bless the Lord, O my soul: O Lord my God, thou art exceedingly great. . . )
- Psalm 148 (Praise ye the Lord from the heavens . . . )
- Daniel 3:52-90 (Blessed art thou, O Lord the God of our fathers . . . )
FOR MORE INFO: If you wish to read richer and deeper writings about Embertide, check out https://www.fisheaters.com/emberdays.html or https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2008/09/glow-of-ember-days.html .
THE ADVENT EMBERTIDE OF DECEMBER
"Dearly beloved, it is our duty as shepherds of your souls to exhort you to the observance of the December fast. Now that the fruits of the earth have been gathered in, it is most fitting that this sacrifice of abstinence should be offered to God who has so bountifully bestowed them upon us. And what can be more useful to this end than fasting? For by its observance we draw near to God, we resist the devil, and overcome the allurements of vice. Fasting has ever been the support of virtue. From abstinence spring chaste thoughts, reasonable desires and salutary counsels. By voluntary mortifications the lusts of the flesh are extinguished and the soul receives new strength.
"But since fasting alone will not obtain health for our souls, let us add to our fasting works of mercy to the poor. Let us spend in good works what we deny to indulgence. Let the abstinence of him who fasts become the banquet of the poor. Therefore, let us fast on Wednesday and Friday, and on Saturday let us keep vigil with blessed Peter the Apostle, that through his merits we may obtain what we ask, through Our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen."
– Pope St. Leo the Great (r. 440-461 AD)
The embertide that honors the beginning of winter and the simple stillness of creation occurs sometime between the Feast of St. Lucy (13 December) and the Feast of the Nativity of Christ (25 December).
The key seasonal emphases for this particular embertide are the following two points A] While nature seems decrepit and lifeless, we rise up, stir ourselves, glorify God, and industriously apply all the gifts He has given us. B] Following St. John the Baptist, we actively discipline ourselves, perform charitable works for our neighbor, and embrace all inconveniences and discomfort.
Further, Blessed Jacopo de Voragine (1230-1298 AD) wrote in his book Legenda Aurea that Pope Callixtus (r. 218-223 AD) had ordained the winter Embertide in December for the following reasons:
- To chastise the cool dampness of untruth and malice
- To be mindful of being mortified to things of this world, at the time of dying vegetation
- To remember the Israelites’ dedicating the temple in December
- To spend three days to temper the understanding, the will, and the mind
- To refrain from the phlegmatic vices, especially inconstancy and apathy. (see below)
- To rule the light liquidity of our slothful indolence
- To honor our God-given gifts by being wise with prudence and honest life.
Scriptures for Ember Wednesday in December:
- Isaias 2:2-5
- Isaias 7:10-15
- Luke 1:26-28
Scriptures for Ember Friday in December:
- Isaias 11:1-5
- Luke 1:37-47
Scriptures for Ember Saturday* in December:
- Isaias 19:20-22
- Isaias 35:1-7
- Isaias 40:9-11
- Isaias 45:1-8
- Daniel 3:47-56
- 2 Thess 2:1-8
- Luke 3:1-6
*Note: For centuries this Advent Ember Saturday was the only day in the Church's year for the conferring of Holy Orders. Now-a-days the sixth sacrament is administered also on other days, feast days and Sundays. But Mother Church has always favored her Ember days as most appropriate for elevating her levites to the Priesthood of Christ, her Bridegroom.
OTHER RESOURCES: A short meditation for each of the three winter ember days, written in 1948, can be found at http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/prayers/view.cfm?id=1424
BEING IN A PHLEGMATIC HUMOR
Bundling people’s tendencies up into four different humors has been done since at least 400 BC. There is a historic association of the season of winter with the watery, cool, damp humor. This humor, more modernly referred to as The Phlegmatic Temperament (Galen) or The Rationalists (Keirsey-Bates), brings its own tendencies of virtues and vices when it is greater than the other three humors within a person. Honoring the mind-body-soul connection, it is interesting to take note of this association of humor-season-spiritual welfare.Phlegmatic Virtues: careful, thoughtful, peaceful, controlled, patient, calm, obedient, kind, perseverant, wise, prudent
Phlegmatic Vices: slothful, compromising, joyless, stubborn, undisciplined, despondent, lethargic, negligent, unambitious, isolated
Over history, the saints on occasion reference the four temperaments, or humors, since the idea is carried through the Catholic spiritual traditions. For those of us who have phlegmatic/rational tendencies, spiritual exercises include: performing corporal works of mercy, meditating on the Passion of Christ, adoring the Blessed Sacrament, or reading True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. For encouragement and inspiration, saints who tended towards this humor include St. Thomas Aquinashttp://www.academia.edu/5271941/The_Four_Temperaments
A re-cap of the two key points of the winter Embertide: A] While nature seems dead and still, we rise up, stir ourselves, glorify God, and industriously apply all the gifts He has given us. B] Following St. John the Baptist, we actively discipline ourselves, perform charitable works for our neighbor, and embrace all inconveniences and discomfort.
Therefore, the two key points of the winter Embertide were especially designed to temper one’s phlegmatic humor while maintaining its strengths. It helps grow the apathetic turtle into the zealous, wise eagle!