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 Gaudete Sunday (3rd Sunday of Advent) are known as “Advent Embertide,” and they come near the beginning of the Season of Winter (December, January, February). Liturgically, the readings for the days’ Masses follow along with the general themes of Advent, opening up with Wednesday’s Introit of Isaias 45: 8 and Psalm 18:2 :
Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior. The heavens show forth the glory of God: and the firmament declareth the work of His hands.
Wednesday’s and Saturday’s Masses will include one and four Lessons, respectively, with all of them concerning the words of the Prophet Isaias except for the last lesson on Saturday, which comes from Daniel and recounts how Sidrach, Misach, and Abdenago are saved from King Nabuchodonosor’s fiery furnace by an angel. This account, which is followed by a glorious hymn, is common to all Embertide Saturdays but for Whit Embertide.
The Gospel readings for the three days concern, respectively, the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-28), Visitation (Luke 1:37-47), and St. John the Baptist’s exhorting us to “prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths” (Luke 3:1-6).
The Natural Season
Psalm 147:12, 16-17
“Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem: praise thy God, O Sion.
Who giveth snow like wool: scattereth mists like ashes.
He sendeth his crystal like morsels: who shall stand before the face of his cold?”
Winter is a time of reflection, when human activity is stilled and snow blankets the world with silence. For the Christian, Winter symbolizes Hope: though the world now appears lifeless and makes us think of our own mortality, we hope in our resurrection because of the Resurrection of the One Whose Nativity we await now. How providential that the Christ Child will be born at the beginning of this icy season, bringing with Him all the hope of Spring! Also among our Winter feasts are the Epiphany and Candlemas, two of the loveliest days of the year, the first evoked by water, incense, and gold; the latter by fire…
Yes, despite the typical, unimaginative view of Winter as a long bout with misery, the season is among the most beautiful and filled with charms. The ephemeral beauty of a single snowflake… the pale blue tint of sky reflected in snow that glitters, and gives way with a satisfying crunch under foot… skeletal trees entombed in crystal, white as bones, cold as death, creaking under the weight of their icy shrouds… the wonderful feeling of being inside, next to a fire, while the winds whirl outside… the smell of burning wood mingled with evergreen… warm hands embracing your wind-bitten ones… the brilliant colors of certain winter birds, so shocking against the ocean of white… the wonderfully long nights which lend themselves to a sense of intimacy and quiet! Go outside and look at the clear Winter skies ruled by Taurus, with the Pleiades on its shoulder and Orion nearby… Such beauty!
Even if you are not a “winter person,” consider that Shakespeare had the right idea when he wrote in “Love’s Labours Lost”:
Why should proud summer boast
Before the birds have any cause to sing?
Why should I joy in an abortive birth?
At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled mirth;
But like of each thing that in season grows.
Associations and Symbols
Winter is characterized by “wet and cold,” and is associated with the golden years of old age, the humour of phlegm, the phlegmatic temperament, 1 and the element of water. Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s fascinating portraits of the season and its associated element lead the imagination in all directions:
Ember Day Fast
The purpose for the fast and abstinence during the Ember Days are to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy. This fast and abstinence are to be observed on Ember Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. According to current Church laws all Catholics between the ages of 21 and 59, inclusive, are bound to fast, and all who have attained their seventh year must keep the abstinence (meat only once at the principal meal on Wednesday and Saturday).