Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Quadragesima Sunday (the first Sunday of Lent) are known as “Lenten Embertide,” which, depending on the date of Easter, can come as early as February 11, but which is seen as associated with the season of Spring (March, April, May). Liturgically, the lessons for the Wednesday and Saturday Masses focus on the Commandments given to Moses by God, and on the promises to those who keep them well, all ending with the story of the three lads saved by an angel from Nabuchodonosor’s furnace, as is so for all but Whit Embertide.
The Gospel readings speak of Our Lord discoursing on the sign of Jonas, and how exorcised spirits can return (Matthew 12:38-50), healing the paralytic (John 5:1-15), and the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9).
The Natural Season
“For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth her seed to shoot forth: so shall the Lord God make justice to spring forth, and praise before all the nations.”
Spring is the fulfillment of Winter’s hope, beginning in rain and ending in a riot of birth and rebirth. How perfect, then, that we begin it all with the Lenten fast and the commemoration of Christ’s Passion, and end with Easter, when Christ vanquishes His tomb, and catechumens are born again by water and Spirit! Sensually, Spring is a season of trees done up in green with pastel trim… the breathtaking blue of a robin’s egg… the cool, waxy pleasure of tulip petals against the skin… butterflies fickle to flowers they mimic with their delicate wings… newborn animals struggling to open their eyes and see the world they help make beautiful. Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins writes of Spring thus:
Nothing is so beautiful as spring —
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. — Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
This season is also seen as a time for love — young love, passionate love — but the love that lasts must take root in the will, and there is no love truer or greater than that which Christ, Who is God and Whose will is one with the Father’s, has for His Church. The Canticle of Canticles’ second chapter alludes to Spring as it speaks of Christ beckoning His Bride:
For winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land, the time of pruning is come: the voice of the turtle is heard in our land: The fig tree hath put forth her green figs: the vines in flower yield their sweet smell. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come…
How blessed we are that the season of love and life brings with it the Feast of the Annunciation, when Our Lady conceives not just mere life, but the Life, and the Way and the Truth. And how beautiful that we dedicate May, the month of flowers, to Our Queen by crowning her at its beginning, and celebrating her Queenship at its end. And how blessed we are that, during all this, Virgo — the Zodiacal sign that symbolizes Our Lady with the Root of Jesse in her hand — rises in the East in March and is visible all the while she makes her way across the Spring sky.
Associations and Symbols
Spring is characterized by “wet and hot,” and is associated with childhood, the humour of blood, the sanguine temperament, 1 and the element of air. 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 getting a bit warmer? How does this warming affect the earth’s air and waters? Why do we need the rains? Remember that lore says that the weather conditions of each of the three days of an Embertide foretells the weather of the next three months, so the weather seen on Wednesday of Lenten Embertide predicts the weather of the coming April, Friday’s weather foretells the weather of May, and Saturday’s weather foretell the weather of June. 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 Spring 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 are the trees changing? What are the animals doing now? Which are waking up from hibernation? Which are returning from having migrated?
Ask them to consider how the seasonal changes of Spring 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 dry and protected from 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 March, April, and May 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:
engaging in falconry,
hawking or hunting
In addition to these things, now is the time to plant trees (early Spring or early Autumn), design and plant your garden (especially your Mary Garden!), send flowers to friends, fly kites, plan June weddings, and, most of all, praise God for His artistry and providence… Get to it!
— and know that just when you tire of this season, Summer will be here!