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). In observance of the Ember Days the Church obligates Her children to practice fast and abstinence on these days for the supplication of blessings from Almighty God for those who are being ordained and for the new season. For those Catholics age seven and older must observe partial abstinence on Wednesday and Saturday. All those between ages 21 and 59 inclusive are obliged to follow the church laws of fast – one full meal a day.
For Whit Embertide 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).
“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 labor.
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.