Wednesday, February 17, 2016 Ember Day
Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart for I am gracious and merciful. (Jl. 2:12-13)
Supernatural Life begins at baptism. Jesus himself spoke of baptism in terms of a strict obligation: “unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” When new believers asked St. Peter, the first pope, what they should do, he declared: “Repent, and be baptized”. It is easy for us to take God’s fatherhood for granted. We say easily, “God is our Father” yet we forget that that during Christ’s time to say that could get you killed. This was why the Jews sought to kill Jesus because he called God his Father. When we are born anew in baptism we are born not of human parentage but heavenly by what theologians call the “marvelous exchange”. In Jesus, God became what we are so that we might become what his is. This is why God became man and this is why he gave us baptism. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in you mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:11-14).
The Ember Days are four series of Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays which correspond to the natural seasons of the year. Autumn brings the September, or Michaelmas, Embertide; winter, the Advent Embertide; Spring, the Lenten Embertide; and in summer, the Whit Embertide (named after Whitsunday, the Feast of Pentecost). The English title for these days, "Ember," is derived from their Latin name: Quatuor Temporum, meaning the "Four Times" or "Four Seasons." The Embertides are periods of prayer and fasting, with each day having its own special Mass. The Old Law prescribes a "fast of the fourth month, and a fast of the fifth, and a fast of the seventh, and a fast of tenth" (Zechariah 8:19). There was also a Jewish custom at the time of Jesus to fast every Tuesday and Thursday of the week. The first Christians amended both of these customs, fasting instead on every Wednesday and Friday: Wednesday because it is the day that Christ was betrayed, and Friday because it is the day that He was slain. (And we now know that this biweekly fast is actually older than some books of the New Testament). Later, Christians from both East and West added their own commemorations of the seasons. The Ember Days thus perfectly express and reflect the essence of Christianity. In the case of both the Hebrew seasonal fasts and the Christian Ember Days, we are invited to consider the wonder of the natural seasons and their relation to God. The seasons, for example, can be said to intimate individually the bliss of Heaven, where there is "the beauty of spring, the brightness of summer, the plenty of autumn, the rest of winter" (St. Thomas Aquinas).The Liturgical seasons of the Church are meant to initiate us annually into the mysteries of our redemption, they should also include some commemoration of nature for the simple reason that nature is the very thing which grace perfects. Another variation of Embertides, instituted by Pope Gelasius I in 494, is to use Ember Saturdays as the day to confer Holy Orders.* Apostolic tradition prescribed that ordinations be preceded by fast and prayer (see Acts 13:3), and so it seemed quite reasonable to place ordinations at the end of this fast period. Moreover, this allows the entire community to join the men in fasting and praying for God’s blessing upon their calling and to share their joy in being called. Embertides thus afford us the opportunity to ruminate on a number of important things: the wondrous cycle of nature and the more wondrous story of our redemption, the splendid differentiation of God’s ordained servants -- and lastly, the condition of our own souls. Traditionally, these were times of spiritual exercises and personal self-examination, the ancient equivalent of our modern retreats and missions. Little wonder, then, that a host of customs and folklore grew up around them affirming the special character of these days.