May our fasts, we beseech Thee, O Lord, be acceptable unto Thee, and by expiating our sins, make us worthy of Thy grace, and bring us to Thine everlasting promises. Through our Lord.
~ Secret of the Mass, Ember Wed. in Advent
EMBER WEDNESDAY IN ADVENT
SIMPLE / PURPLE
December 14, 16, and 17, 2011 (the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after December 13) – these days are marked by fasting, abstinence, prayer and Masses particular for the day.
Three days of fasting, prayer, and charity consecrate to God each of the four seasons of the year. “Let the abstinence of him that fasts become the meal of the poor man,” says St. Leo, reminding us that we fast not only for ourselves but for our neighbors. These are also days of praying and meriting grace for those to be ordained on Saturday. The Epistle in the Mass deals with the promise of the Saviour, and the Gospel with the announcement of His coming. So these Advent Ember Days are, finally, a spiritual preparation for His advent.
FASTING The obligation to fast applies to all Catholics who meet the age requirements (see below) on the required days unless they have a medical condition which prevents them from doing so, are pregnant or nursing, or their work would be impaired. On days of fasting:
- One full meal is allowed (with meat, unless it is also a day of abstinence).
- Two smaller meals without meat, which together do not equal the main meal, are permitted to maintain strength.
- No food or snacks are permitted between meals.
- Liquids are permitted, but care should be taken not to violate the spirit of the fast.
ABSTINENCE On days of full abstinence one is not permitted to eat the flesh of warm-blooded animals or soups or gravies made with the flesh of such animals. On days of partial abstinence (traditional rules only) one meal containing meat is permitted.
Traditional (1962) Discipline
Fasting obligations applied to those between the ages of 21 and 59, inclusive, except as noted above. Abstinence obligations applied to those age 7 and older.
Fasting was required on Ash Wednesday, the three following days, all days of Lent, Ember days, and vigils.
Full abstinence was required on Ash Wednesday, all Fridays during the year, and the vigil of Christmas. Partial abstinence was required on all days of Lent, Wednesdays and Saturdays of the Ember weeks, and all vigils (except Christmas).
The requirements for fasting and abstinence did not apply on Holy Days of Obligation (including Sundays).
Fasting obligations apply to those between the ages of 18 and 59, inclusive, except as noted above. Abstinence obligations apply to those age 14 and older. Canon law explicitly requires that pastors and parents ensure that minors not under these obligations are taught the true meaning of penance.
Fasting and abstinence are required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting on Holy Saturday is recommended, but not required.
Abstinence is required on all Fridays of Lent unless they are solemnities. Fridays outside of Lent are penitential days: abstinence is recommended, but in the United States other forms of penance may be performed.
The current laws of fasting and abstinence bind under the pain of severe sin.
EPISTLE (Is. 7:10-15). And the Lord spoke again to Achaz, saying: Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God, either unto the depth of hell or unto the height above. And Achaz said: I will not ask, and I will not tempt the Lord. And he said: Hear ye, therefore, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel. He shall eat butter and honey, that he may know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good.’
EXPLANATION In this Epistle is contained the important prophecy of the Savior’s birth from a virgin. War was declared by the kings of Israel and Syria against Achaz, king of Juda, who at their approach was overpowered with fear, and thought of seeking aid from the Assyrians instead of looking to Almighty God for help; and for this lack of confidence in God, the prophet Isaiah was sent to announce to him the destruction of both kings, and his own preservation. The prophet, wishing Achaz to prove his assertion, requested the king to demand a sign from God; but he being given to idolatry, did not wish to ask a sign from heaven, for he had more faith in the assistance of the demons and of the Assyrians. He offended God by his refusal and the prophet rebuked him, saying: The Lord himself will give you (that is, your posterity) a sign, for the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel, that is-God with us. By these words Isaias desired to impress upon the king, that as surely as he should be preserved from his enemies, so surely this Emmanuel, the Son of the Virgin, would appear to redeem the world from Satan’s power. Let us learn from this lesson always to trust in God, who can deliver us from all danger, and let us also be grateful to Him, who seven hundred and forty-three years before the time, permitted, for our consolation, the announcement of the coming of His Son, our Savior.
The gospel (Lk. 1:26-28) of this day will be found in the second part of this book on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin.
ASPIRATION O Emmanuel, powerful, holy God! Our Savior and our Redeemer! be with us always in life and death: for, if Thou art with us who can be against us?
COLLECT Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the approaching celebration of our redemption may bring us the necessary graces for the present life, and bestow upon us the rewards of eternal happiness. Through our Lord.
The Liturgical Year
by Dom Guéranger, O.S.B.
Today the Church begins the fast of Quatuor Tempora, or, as we call it, of Ember days: it includes also the Friday and Saturday of this same week. This observance is not peculiar to the Advent liturgy; it is one which has been fixed for each of the four seasons of the ecclesiastical year. We may consider it as one of those practices which the Church took from the Synagogue; for the prophet Zacharias speaks of the fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months. Its introduction into the Christian Church would seem to have been made in the apostolic times; such, at least, is the opinion of St. Leo, of St. Isidore of Seville, of Rabanus Maurus, and of several other ancient Christian writers. It is remarkable, on the other hand, that the orientals do not observe this fast.
From the first ages the Quatuor Tempora were kept, in the Roman Church, at the same time of the year as at present. As to the expression, which is not infrequently used in the early writers, of the three times and not the four, we must remember that in the spring, these days always come in the first week of Lent, a period already consecrated to the most rigorous fasting and abstinence, and that consequently they could add nothing to the penitential exercises of that portion of the year.
The intentions, which the Church has in the fast of the Ember days, are the same as those of the Synagogue; namely, to consecrate to God by penance the four seasons of the year. The Ember days of Advent are known, in ecclesiastical antiquity, as the fast of the tenth month; and St. Leo, in one of his sermons on this fast, of which the Church has inserted a passage in the second nocturn of the third Sunday of Advent, tells us that a special fast was fixed for this time of the year, because the fruits of the earth had then all been gathered in, and that it behoved Christians to testify their gratitude to God by a sacrifice of abstinence, thus rendering themselves more worthy to approach to God, the more they were detached from the love of created things. “For fasting,” adds the holy doctor, “has ever been the nourishment of virtue. Abstinence is the source of chaste thoughts, of wise resolutions, and of salutary counsel. By voluntary mortification, the flesh dies to its concupiscence, and the spirit is renewed in virtue. But since fasting alone is not sufficient whereby to secure the soul’s salvation, let us add to it works of mercy towards the poor. Let us make that which we retrench from indulgence, serve unto the exercise of virtue. Let the abstinence of him that fasts, become the meal of the poor man.”
Let us, the children of the Church practice what is in our power of these admonitions; and since the actual discipline of Advent is so very mild, let us be so much the more fervent in fulfilling the precept of the fast of the Ember days. By these few exercises which are now required of us, let us keep up within ourselves the zeal of our forefathers for this holy season of Advent. We must never forget that although the interior preparation is what is absolutely essential for our profiting by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, yet this preparation could scarcely be real unless it manifested itself by the exterior practices of religion and penance.
The fast of the Ember days has another object besides that of consecrating the four seasons of the year to God by an act of penance: it has also in view the ordination of the ministers of the Church, which takes place on the Saturday, and of which notice was formerly given to the people during the Mass of the Wednesday. In the Roman Church, the ordination held in the month of December was, for a long time, the most solemn of all; and it would appear, from the ancient chronicles of the Popes, that, excepting very extraordinary cases, the tenth month was, for several ages, the only time for conferring Holy Orders in Rome. The faithful should unite with the Church in this her intention, and offer to God their fasting and abstinence for the purpose of obtaining worthy ministers of the word and of the Sacraments, and true pastors of the people.
The Church does not read from the prophet Isaias on Ember Wednesday; She merely reads a sentence from the first chapter of St. Luke, which gives Our Lady’s Annunciation, to which She subjoins a passage from St. Ambrose’s Homily on that Gospel. The fact of this Gospel having been chosen for the Office and the Mass of today, has made the Wednesday of the third week of Advent a very marked day in the calendar. In several ancient Ordinaries, used by many of the larger churches, both cathedral and abbatial, we find that it prescribed that feasts falling on this Wednesday should be transferred; that the ferial prayers should not be said kneeling on this day; that the Gospel Missus Est, that is, of the Annunciation, should be sung at Matins by the celebrant vested in a white cope, with cross, torches and incense, the great bell tolling the meanwhile; that in abbeys, the abbot should preach a homily to the monks, as on solemn feasts. We are indebted to this custom for the four magnificent sermons of St. Bernard on our Blessed Lady, which are entitled: Super Missus Est.
The Mass of Ember Wednesday was formerly known as the Missa Aurea—the Golden Mass— due to the capital letters in the proper of this Mass being so frequently illuminated with gold ink, in the manuscript Missals of the Middle Ages. It was the custom for a priest in a white cope to sing the Gospel, rather than the deacon vested in violet. The Station for Wednesday was at St. Mary Major, on account of the Gospel of the Annunciation, which, as we have just seen, has caused this day to be looked upon as a real Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary.