Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006
Ember Days. Tomorrow is one (for winter); so was last Wednesday, and this Saturday will be as well.

For years I've seen that mysterious term, "Ember Days," on Tridentine calendars. Now I understand it a little better. Ember Days are days of moderate penance (or, if occurring during Advent or Lent, of moderately more penance). As part of our centuries-long campaign to affirm the goodness of God's creation, convert reasonable pagan practices to Christian uses, and freak out those crypto-dualists in the Protestant camp, the Ember Days are brazenly seasonal and agriculturally based:
The purpose of their introduction, besides the general one intended by all prayer and fasting, was to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy. The immediate occasion was the practice of the heathens of Rome. The Romans were originally given to agriculture, and their native gods belonged to the same class. At the beginning of the time for seeding and harvesting religious ceremonies were performed to implore the help of their deities: in June for a bountiful harvest, in September for a rich vintage, and in December for the seeding; hence their feriae sementivae, feriae messis, and feri vindimiales. The Church, when converting heathen nations, has always tried to sanctify any practices which could be utilized for a good purpose.
And so, after evolving from 4th century origins:
[t]hey were definitely arranged and prescribed for the entire Church by Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) for the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after 13 December (S. Lucia), after Ash Wednesday, after Whitsunday, and after 14 September (Exaltation of the Cross).
I'm sorry to learn that the actual words "Ember Days" are a "corruption from Lat. Quatuor Tempora, four times...." I had visions of Catholic hearths -- in the middle of the huts of the poor, in the grand fireplaces of the rich -- dwindling down to embers, whose greyness reminded us that all created goods pass, but whose enduring heat reminds us that God's love and grace await us beneath the apparent ashes of daily life and of our own failings. In fact I think I will retain that vision, now that I have rediscovered (such treasures Holy Mother Church placed in her attic back in the '60s!) the Ember Days.