Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Ember Wednesday of Pentecost 2022

The late 12th-century liturgical commentator Sicard of Cremona explains the texts of the Mass of Ember Wednesday in the Octave of Pentecost, and why the summer Ember Day fasts are united to the solemnity.

“The Office of Wednesday preaches on knowledge, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who even unto this day has enlightened the Saints. This gift grew in abundance from the five books of Moses, and the few writings of the prophets, as the Daniel foresaw, saying, ‘Many shall pass over, and knowledge shall be manifold.’ (Dan. 12, 4)

The Gospel reveals this to us mystically in the story of the five loaves and two fishes, which were multiplied between the mouths of those that ate them; likewise, the Law and the Prophets are multiplied in the studies of those that contemplate them. … And note that two readings are done (before the Gospel), since two people are converted to the faith (i.e., the Jews and the gentiles), and because those who are to be ordained (at the Mass of the Ember Saturday) are instructed in the pages of both Testaments. Before these in the Gospel is set forth bread, that is to say, the Sacred Scripture.

The Introit that comes before these (readings) is fitting: ‘God, when Thou went forth before Thy people, making a way for them, dwelling among them, alleluia, the earth was moved, the heavens dropped down, alleluia, alleluia.’ For through knowledge, God has gone forth, which is to say, He has become known; and because by meditating on the sacred expositions, (the Apostles) explained the Scriptures. Therefore, in the Offertory is sung ‘I meditated upon thy Commandments.’ And because they say the same thing, and there is no division among them, rightly the Communion antiphon adds, ‘I leave you my peace, alleluia, my peace I give you, alleluia.’

Pentecost, from the San Piero Maggiore Altarpiece by Jacopo di Cione, 1370
Understand that today’s Ember Day fast does not detract from the solemnity of the Holy Spirit, but rather illuminates it, because the delights of the Holy Spirit bring with them distaste for the delights of the body; and because, the Bridegroom being taken away, the Apostles had to fast, as the Lord had foretold, when He said, ‘The Bridegroom will be taken away from them, then they will fast.’ (Matthew 9, 15) Wherefore, being filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to fast of their own free will. For this reason, some begin the Lent of summer on the previous Monday, but others more correctly esteem today’s fast as the beginning of the fast of this period. And some put the end (of this fast) at the feast of St John (the Baptist), whether it have six weeks or not. Others include the feast of St John, fasting without a fixed ending point, until they fulfill the six weeks.” (Mitrale, VII, 9)

Sicard goes on to claim that a “summer fast” or “summer Lent” was known to St Jerome, but as a matter of choice, not of obligation like Lent before Easter. (He is citing Jerome’s letter 41 to Marcella, but misunderstanding it.) The Eastern churches still have an analogous observance in the “Fast of the Apostles”, which runs from the Monday after the feast of All Saints until the feast of Ss Peter and Paul on June 29. (The Byzantine All Saints is kept on the Sunday after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday in the Western rites.)

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