Thursday, December 9, 2021

Advent Embertide (The Fast of the Four Seasons)
- December 15, 17, 18

Fasting days and Emberings be
Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.


Next week I will be observing Advent Embertide, which occurs this year on Wednesday, December 15, Friday the 17th and Saturday the 18th.

Though not widely observed by the church and perhaps little known to some, Embertide is observed four times a year, and is a time set aside to focus on God through His marvelous creation. These quarterly periods take place around the beginnings of the four natural seasons

The term “Ember” is derived from the Latin term Quatuor Tempora, which means four times. The Ember Days are a quarterly series of Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, taking place at the beginning of each natural season, that are set aside as a time of fasting and prayer: Michaelmas Embertide in September, signaling the beginning of autumn; Advent Embertide in December, ushering in the winter season; Lenten Embertide, which arrives in spring; and Whit Embertide which comes at the start of the summer season.These three days each season provide the faithful with an opportunity to contemplate the wonder of God through His creation—that is, the natural world—and to engage in self-reflection. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived in the fourth century A.D., provides an excellent model for Embertide contemplation. He writes;

"If any man attempt to speak of God, let him first describe the bounds of the earth. Thou dwellest on the earth, and the limit of this earth which is thy dwelling thou knowest not: How then shalt thou be able to form a worthy thought of its Creator? Thou beholdest the stars, but their Maker thou beholdest not: Count these which are visible, and then describe Him who is invisible, Who telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names."

 - St. Cyril  

The fasts are likewise known as "Jejunia quatuor temporum," or "the fast of the four seasons," and are rooted in Old Testament practices of fasting four times a year:

"Thus saith the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Juda, joy, and gladness, and great solemnities: only love ye truth and peace."

- Zechariah s 8:19

Ember Days are also often referred to “mini Lents” , being a time to pray, fast and to thank God for the gifts He gives us through nature, following the beauty and uniqueness of each particular season. However, unlike the solemnness of Lenten fasting, Ember Days’ fasting is joyful and thankful. The Church counts her blessings and rejoices in the gifts of nature, especially crops that contribute to the administration of the Sacraments.

WINTER // olives and oil, used for anointing the sick

SPRING // flowers and bees, used for altar and Baptismal candles

SUMMER // wheat, used for the Holy Eucharist

AUTUMN // grapes, used for the Precious Blood

Ember Days are observed on specific days in each seasonal cycle, always on Wednesday (the day Christ was betrayed), Friday (the day Christ was crucified) and Saturday, (the day Christ was buried), and following specific pinnacle dates on the church calendar. Our Israelite ancestors once fasted weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but Christians changed the fast days to Wednesdays and Fridays ). The weekly two day fasts were later amended in the Roman Church to keeping only Fridays as penitential days, but during Embertides, the older, two-day fasts are restored. 

(Dates for upcoming year, 2022)

SPRING (Lenten) Embertide (after Ash Wednesday) - March 9, 11. 12, 2022

SUMMER (Whitsun) Embertide (after Pentecost Sunday) - June 8, 10, 11, 2022

AUTUMN (Michaelmas) Embertide (after Holy Cross Day) - September 21, 23, 24, 2022

WINTER (Advent) Embertide (after the Feast of Saint Lucy) - December 14, 16, 17, 2022

Their dates can be remembered by this old mnemonic:

Sant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia 

Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria.

Which means:

Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost, 

are when the quarter holidays follow.

For non-Latinists, it might be easier to just remember "Lucy, Ashes, Dove, and Cross" -- or "Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy."

Folklore has it that the weather conditions of each of the Ember day predicts the weather of the next three months respectively. For example;
The weather of Ember Wednesday of Advent (December 15), predicts the weather for January, 
Ember Friday of Advent (December 17), predicts the weather for February
Ember Saturday, for March (December 18) predicts the weather for March

and then again in each season;

Ember Wednesday of Lent - predicts the weather for April
Ember Thursday of Lent - predicts the weather for May
Ember Friday of Lent - predicts the weather for June

Ember Wednesday of Pentecost - predicts the weather for July
Ember Thursday of Pentecost - predicts the weather for August
Ember Friday of Pentecost - predicts the weather for September

Ember Wednesday of Michaelmas - predicts the weather for October
Ember Thursday of Michaelmas - predicts the weather for November
Ember Friday of Michaelmas - predicts the weather for December

On the days of Embertide, we are admonished to observe the day in prayer and fasting. Fasting provides an opportunity to consider God’s gifts and how to use them in moderation. Fasting on Ember Days means one regular meal per day (two smaller meals in morning and evening, no snacks) on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, with the addition of abstaining from meat on Friday.

Wednesday of Embertide

Friday of Embertide

- No meat

Saturday of Embertide

*In addition to the penitential fasting and alms-giving of this time, it is good to consider our stewardship of the earth, a responsibility God gave to us in the Garden of Eden, as recorded in Genesis 1:28-30:

"God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth. And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat: And to all beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon."

The point is also beautifully made in the eighth Psalm:
"O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth! For thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens. Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise, because of thy enemies, that thou mayst destroy the enemy and the avenger. For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded. 

What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him? Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour: And hast set him over the works of thy hands. Thou hast subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen: moreover the beasts also of the fields. The birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea, that pass through the paths of the sea. O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in all the earth!"

Be mindful of your effects on our dear earth and don't allow people to "politicize" the issue of our stewardship of God's creation! But to be mindful of nature, it helps to actually see her first. Go outside and look! And praise God for all you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste as you allow His glorious works to touch your senses!
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.

*Text derived from Fish Eaters. For additional resources for Advent Embertide, see this post.

If you would like to learn more about Ember Days and ways that you can incorporate the observance of them into your faith, here are some additional resources.

On December 15, 17, and 18, you may voluntarily choose to adopt practices such as increased prayer or scripture reading, abstaining from meat or alcohol, fasting, almsgiving, or any other penances you prefer. It is a beautiful and traditional way to increase your awareness of Christ’s suffering and self-offering, and a nice way to prepare for the joy of Christmas!

No comments: