Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Liturgical Notes on the Ember Days of September

The origin of the English term “Ember Days” seems to be disputed. Some scholars claim it is merely a corruption of the Latin name “Quattuor Temporum – of the four times (or ‘seasons’)”, through the German “Quatember”, while others derive it from the Anglo-Saxon words “ymb-ryne”, meaning “regularly occurring.” English-speakers used also to refer to them as “Quarter tense”, another corruption of the Latin name. In German liturgical books of the Middle Ages, they are often called with an entirely different word, “angaria”; for example, the index of the 1498 Missal of Salzburg calls the Ember Days of Advent the “angaria hiemalis”, (i.e. of winter), those of Lent the “angaria vernalis” etc.

This word derives from the verb “angariare – to press someone into service”, which occurs three times in the Latin New Testament. The first occurrence is in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 41), “And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two.” The other two are when Simon of Cyrene is forced to help the Lord carry His Cross, Matthew 27, 32 and its parallel in Mark 15, 21. The noun “angaria” therefore means “a pressing into service” or “exaction”; according to DuCange’s Medieval Latin Glossary, it was used in Germany to refer to a quarterly tax that was collected at the Ember Days. Missals and breviaries printed for use in Germany do however also regularly use the Latin “Quattuor Tempora”.
The index of the Missal of Salzburg, printed at Nuremburg in 1498. At the bottom of the left column are read “angaria hiemalis” etc. From the website of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.
One of the most beautiful features of the Masses of Ember Saturday is the canticle Benedictus es which follows the fifth prophecy from the Book of Daniel in Advent, Lent and September. (During the octave of Pentecost, the reading is the same, but the canticle is substituted by an Alleluia with one versicle.) Medieval liturgical commentators offer a clever explanation as to why the prayers which precede the first four prophecies are introduced by “Oremus. Flectamus genua. Levate.”, but the fifth one is introduced by “Dominus vobiscum.” In his Summa de Ecclesiasticis Officiis, Johannes Beleth writes in the mid-12th century that “Among these (prophecies) there is one which as it is being sung, no one ought to sit. This is the song of the three children, who contend for the faith of the Trinity, and so were cast into the furnace. Therefore at this song it is not good to genuflect, because the children would not genuflect before the statue of Nebuchadnezzar, although many princes did.”

As I have noted previously, the Missal of Sarum has a different arrangement for this reading and its canticle on each of the four Ember Days. On Pentecost, the reading found in the Roman Missal, Daniel 3, 47-51, is lengthened by the addition of the Biblical canticle, chapter 3, 52-88; the addition is sung by the reader as part of the lesson, and not with the proper melody of the Benedictus es. As is often the case with the lessons in medieval missals, the text does not correspond exactly to the wording of the Vulgate; there are a number of variants which derive from the Old Latin version of the Bible. Furthermore, several of the repetitions of “praise and exalt him above all forever” are omitted. The reading is then followed by the Alleluia and its verse as in the Roman Missal.

In September, Sarum has the same reading as at Pentecost. It is followed, however by a canticle composed by the German monk, poet and scholar Walafrid Strabo, a student of Rabanus Maurus at the famous abbey of Fulda in the first half of the 9th century. This canticle is a poetic paraphrase of the Benedicite, each verse of which is followed by a refrain, “Let them ever adore the Almighty, and bless him through every age.” At Sarum, the refrain was sung with the verbs in the indicative, “They ever adore the Almighty, and bless him in every age.”; it is split into two parts, which are sung after alternate verses. There are a few other minor variants from Walafrid’s original version.

semper adorant,
Et benedicunt
omne per aevum.
They ever adore
the Almighty
and bless Him
through every age.
Astra polorum,
cuncta hominum gens
Solque sororque,
lumina caeli
semper adorant.
The stars of heaven,
every sort of men,
and the sun and his sister,
the lights of heaven.
They ever adore
the Almighty.
Sic quoque lymphae
quaeque supernae
Ros pluviaeque,
spiritus omnis.
Et benedicunt
omne per aevum.
So also all the waters
in heaven above,
the dew and the rains,
and every wind.
And bless Him
through every age.
Ignis et aestus,
cauma geluque
Frigus et ardor
atque pruina.
Omnipotentem etc.
Fire and heat,
warmth and cold,
chill and burning
and the frost.
They adore etc.
Nix glaciesque,
noxque diesque
Lux tenebraeque,
fulgura, nubes.
Snow and ice,
night and day,
light and darkness,
lightnings and clouds.
Arida montes,
germina, colles,
Flumina, fontes,
pontus et undae.
Deserts, mountains,
plants, hills,
rivers, springs,
the seas and the waves.
Omnia viva,
quae vehit aequor,
vegetat aer,
terraque nutrit
All things that live
and are born on the waters,
that the air quickens,
and the earth nourishes.
Cuncta hominum gens,
Israel ipse
servuli quique.
Every sort of men,
Israel itself,
and the worshipers of Christ,
and all His servants.
Sancti humilesque,
corde benigno
Tresque pusilli
The holy, the humble,
the gentle of heart,
and the three little ones
in their triumph.
Rite camini
ignei flammas
jussa tyranni
temnere prompti.
Justly ready
to disdain the flames
of the fiery furnace,
and the tyrant’s orders.
Sit Genitori
laus, Genitoque
lausque beato
Flamini sacro.
Praise to the Father,
and to the Son,
and praise to the blessed
Holy Spirit.

The Three Children in the Furnace, as depicted in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome ca. 275 A.D.
The Ember Days are often said to be connected with the agricultural seasons, especially in reference to the harvest seasons of the Italian peninsula, since they originated in Rome. In point of fact, there are only a few references to harvests and harvest-offerings at Pentecost, only one in Lent (the first prophecy) and none at all in Advent. In September, on the other hand, the references to the harvest are very clear, especially in the Epistles of the Masses. On Wednesday, Amos 9, 13-15, on Friday, the end of the book of Hosea (14, 2-10) and the second reading from Leviticus on Saturday (23, 39-43) all speak of harvests and the fruits of the earth. The last of these prescribes that they be kept “starting on the fifteenth of the seventh month”; according to the Roman tradition, September was originally the seventh month of the calendar, and indeed, September 15th is the earliest day on which the first Ember Day can occur.

To the medieval liturgist William Durandus, however, as probably to most of his contemporaries in the clergy, the most prominent feature of the Ember Days was not thanksgiving for the bounty of God in the harvest, but rather the traditional celebration of these days as the proper time for ordinations. He therefore offers the following allegorical reflections on the three Masses, explaining them in reference to season of the ordinands.  (Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, Liber VI, capp. 132-134)
On Wednesday is read the Gospel (Mark 9, 16-28) … about the deaf and mute (boy) whom the Apostles could not heal, since “that kind of demons is not cast out except in fasting and prayer”; which is fitting to this day. For today is the fast of the four times, and therefore two readings are read, so that the ordinands may be taught in the two precepts of charity, or in the two laws.
The Mass of Friday expresses the penitence of the ordinands, whence in the Gospel… they are instructed unto conversion, and in the introit they are invited to seek the Lord. (“Let the heart of them that seek the Lord rejoice. Seek ye the Lord, and be strengthened, seek ye ever His face.”)
The Mass of Saturday is all said for the teaching of the ordinands, lest they be sterile, like the fruitless fig tree, of which the Gospel is read (Luke 13, 6-17), and lest their lives be caught up in earthly matters, like the bent over woman. In the Epistle (Hebrews 9, 2-12), which treats of the first and second tabernacles, they are admonished to serve in the tabernacle of the Church Militant in such wise that they may be presented to the Lord in the tabernacle of the Church Triumphant. … Rightly in this month are the ordinations of clerics done, since in this month took place (in the Old Testament) the celebration of (the feast of) Tabernacles. Now the ordained are the ministers of the Church, established in the seven orders on the day of tabernacles through seven-fold grace.

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