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Day of Fast and Partial Abstinence

Missa “Reminíscere”

Collecta at St. Peter ad Vincula. Station at St. Mary Major.

The spring Ember Week coincides with the first week of Lent. It was instituted for the purpose of consecrating to God the new season, and by fasting and prayer to draw down Heavenly graces on those who on Saturday are to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

The Station on this day was always held at St. Mary Major, the greatest and most illustrious of the Roman churches consecrated to the Mother of God. The Gospel also alludes to Our Lady. The two lessons, the second of which is read as Epistle, tell of Moses and Elias, who before seeing the glory of the Lord fasted forty days and forty nights. Called to take the place of the rebellious Jews, let us make ourselves worthy of the fruits of penance as did the men of Ninevah.

“As the miracle of Jonas”, says St. Ambrose, ” is a type of our Lord’s Passion, so also is it a testimony to the gravity of the sins committed by the Jews.” “In quoting the example of the Ninevites, our Lord on the one hand foretold the punishment, on the other, he pointed out the remedy. Therefore, even the Jews need not despair of pardon, if they are willing to do penance” (Matins).

The ancient Roman sources speak of three ember fasts, not four. Perhaps the actual fixing of the spring ember days in the sixth week before Easter dates from a time when the paschal fast began only three weeks before the great festival. It was customary at Rome on the Wednesday preceding the ordinations of the month of March.

The venerated Abbot Dom Prosper Gueranger shares his reflections which we excerpt below from The Liturgical Year (pages 156-161 of Volume 5) for Ember Wednesday in the First Week of Lent:

The fast of today is prescribed by a double law: it is Lent, and it is Ember Wednesday. It is the same with the Friday and Saturday of this week. There are two principal objects for the Ember days of this period of the year: the first is to offer up to God the season of spring, and, by fasting and prayer, to draw down His blessing upon it; the second is, to ask Him to enrich with His choicest graces the priests and sacred ministers who are to receive their Ordination on Saturday. Let us, therefore, have a great respect for these three days; and let those who violate, upon them, the laws of fasting or abstinence, know that they commit a twofold sin.

Moses and Elias fast for forty days and forty nights, because God bids them come near to Him. Man must purify himself, he must unburden himself, in some measure at least, of the body which weighs him down, if he would enter into communication with Him who is the Spirit. And yet the vision of God granted to these two holy personages was very imperfect: they felt that God was near them, but they beheld not His glory. But when the fullness of time came,(1)-{Gal. iv. 4} God manifested Himself in the flesh: and man saw, and heard, and touched Him.(2)-{1 St. John i. 1} We, indeed, are not of the number of those favored ones who lived with Jesus, the Word of life; but in the holy Eucharist He allows us to do more than see Him: He enters into our breasts, He is our food. The humblest member of the Church possesses God more fully than either Moses on Sinai, or Elias on Horeb. We cannot, therefore, be surprised that the Church, in order to fit us for this favor at the Easter solemnity, bids us go through a preparation of forty days, though its severity is not to be compared with the rigid fast which Moses and Elias had to observe as the condition of receiving what God promised them.

Let us Catholics remember that amidst the great religious movement which is now going on, it is our duty to be not only most firm in our faith, but also most zealous in the observance of the laws of the Church, such, for example, as Lent. The apostolate of example will produce its fruits; and if a mere handful of Christians was to the Roman empire like that leaven of which our Savior speaks,(1)-{See the Gospel for the sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, in our Septuagesima} and which leavened the whole mass, what results might we not expect in a country like our own, which has retained so much Catholic practice and doctrine, if the Catholics themselves were but zealous to exercise of their duties?

Before man is life and death, good and evil; that which he shall choose, shall be given unto him(1)-{Ecclus. Xv. 14, 18} And yet, such is the mercy of the Lord our God, that, if a man have made a bad choice, but afterwards cast away from himself the evil, and turn to what is good, he shall surely live, and his repentance shall restore to him what he had forfeited.

Let us, then, be earnest in the great work of our conversion, and fit ourselves for pardon. Such is the generosity of our heavenly Father, that if we desire, with all the sincerity of our soul, to be once more His faithful children, He will give us more than the crumbs which fall from His table; He will give us Jesus, the Bread of life; and, oh, what a pledge of reconciliation is that!

Saint Andrew Daily Missal and the Marian Missal , 1945


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