Genesis 8:22 “All the days of the earth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, night and day, shall not cease.”
Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Pentecost Sunday are known as “Whit Embertide,” and they come anywhere between mid-May and mid-June, at the beginning of Summer (June, July, August). The Lessons read during the Masses connect the Pentecost with the Old Testament Feast of Firstfruits.
The Gospel readings focus on Our Lord speaking of Himself as the Heavenly Bread (John 6:44-52), healing the man lowered down through the roof , telling the Pharisees that it is easier to say “Thy sins are forgiven” than to say “Arise and walk!” (Luke 5:17-26), and healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-44).
The Natural Season
“Go to the ant, O sluggard,
and consider her ways, and learn wisdom:
Which, although she hath no guide, nor master, nor captain,
provideth her meat for herself in the summer,
and gathereth her food in the harvest.”
Summer is the time of growth and work, of preparation for the harvest that comes before Winter. For the Catholic, it is a time of preparation for harvest on the spiritual level, too, as is reflected in the liturgical season of Time After Pentecost. Providential it is, then, that June has a special focus on the Sacred Heart, to Whom we offer our labours and sufferings through the Morning Offering. And providential it is that there come in these months the Feasts of many great Saints who show us how to do our work well, especially the Feast of St. Martha, God’s worker, whose story reminds us to put the spiritual first and to order our work.
And in the midst of that work, God gives us great comforts; this season, like all of the earth’s seasons, fills the senses: the symphony of frogs and crickets against a background of rustling leaves… fireflies twinkling like stars in the forests… warm winds blowing through fields of wheat and tall grasses… water lilies floating on their large, round leaves… skies clear and blue, or cushioned with great wads of rolling white clouds, shining pale gold on their edges… water that feels like cool silk against hot skin… the sharp, green smell of new-mown grass and hay…
… And the colors, the smells, the textures of firstfruits: corn, tomatoes, and eggplant… strawberries, blueberries, and plums…. wheat, and the hazelnuts that cause one to think of St. Julian of Norwich’s vision:
I saw that He is to us everything that is good and comfortable for us: He is our clothing that for love wrappeth us, claspeth us, and all encloseth us for tender love, that He may never leave us; being to us all-thing that is good, as to mine understanding.
Also in this He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall last for that God loveth it. And so all-thing hath the being by the love of God.
All of these things have being because God, Who is Being itself, loves. Let us love Him with gratitude and by loving what He loves! Let us “offer the firstfruits,” as the Lessons tell us, by offering ourselves to Him and doing what He told us to do: to be good stewards, to care for the poor, to pray for the dead, and, most of all, to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, and with our whole soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength; and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Associations and Symbols
Summer is characterized by “dry and hot,” and is associated with youth, the humour of yellow bile, the choleric temperament, 1 and the element of fire. Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s fascinating portraits of the season and its associated element lead the imagination in all directions:
Get your children to think of what changes atmospherically and astronomically during the this season. Why is it so hot? How do the warm temperatures affect the earth’s air and waters? Remember that lore says that the weather conditions of each of the three days of an Embertide foretell the weather of the next three months, so the weather seen on Wednesday of Whit Embertide predicts the weather of the coming July, Friday’s weather foretells the weather of August, and Saturday’s weather foretells the weather of September. Make a note of the weather on those three days and see if the old tales are true!
What stars can be seen during the Summer months? Do your children know the traditional names for this season’s full Moons?:
If they were in charge of naming the Moons of this season, what would they call them?
Ask your children to consider how the seasonal changes affect the plants and animals. How have the trees changed since Spring? What are the animals doing now?
Ask them to consider how the seasonal changes of Summer affect (or traditionally affected) the activities of man. What can we do now that we couldn’t do at other times of the year? What can’t we do? How do modern conveniences affect the answers to those questions? Ask them how they would ensure they had shelter, food, and water if they were put into the middle of the woods right now, with the season as it is. What plants and animals would be available to eat? How would they keep themselves cool and protected from the sun and insects?
In the Middle Ages, the months are almost always uniformly depicted by showing the “Labours of Man” throughout the seasons. In stained glass windows, in illuminated manuscripts, one sees over and over the same human activities used to portray the months. Below are the months of June, July and August from the “Très Belles Heures” by the brothers Jean, Paul, and Hermann Limbourg, the same men who illuminated the “Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.” Click on each picture to see how that month is portrayed in the that latter work:
(beating to separate the wheat from the chaff — the dry bracts that surround some grains)
In addition to these things, now is the time to catch fireflies, go feed the ducks, name the shapes of clouds, lie on the ground and watch the ants at work, make jams, go on picnics, fish, swim, camp, sail, and, most of all, praise God for His artistry and providence… Get to it!
— and know that just when you tire of this season, Autumn will be here!
See also Michaelmas Embertide (Autumn), Advent Embertide (Winter),
and Lenten Embertide (Spring).
Read also about Rogation Days if you are tempted to inordinately sentimentalize nature.
1 Check here to learn about the theory of the Four Temperaments and to take a test to determine what your temperament is.