Saturday, June 03, 2023

The Ancient Character of Pentecost in the Roman Rite (Part 2)

This is the continuation of an article posted yesterday.

Pentecost and the Ember Days

The relationship between the Pentecost octave and the summer Ember days in the earliest sources is an interesting problem, one which does not admit of a perfectly satisfactory solution. In the sermons of Pope St Leo the Great (440-61), which he wrote before the octave was instituted, it is absolutely clear that they were celebrated on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Pentecost. He speaks of them not as penitential days, but as a useful, and indeed necessary preparation for the long haul of the rest of the ecclesiastical year. This idea permeates the prayers of the Leonine and Gelasian Masses for them, which focus heavily on the spiritual benefits of fasting, and make only one glancing reference to the expiation of personal sin. The preface of the Gelasian Mass for Ember Wednesday quotes one of Leo’s sermons “on the fast of Pentecost” quite closely.

Pope St Leo the Great, by the Spanish painter Francisco Herrera the Younger (1627-85). Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
VD: Post illos enim laetitiae dies, quos in honore Domini a mortuis resurgentis et in caelos ascendentis exigimus, postque perceptum sancti Spiritus donum, necessaria etenim nobis ieiunia sancta prouisa sunt, ut pura conversacione uiuentibus que diuinitus sunt aecclesiae conlata permaneant: per Christum dominum nostrum.
Truly it is worthy… For after those days of rejoicing, which we have kept in honor of the Lord who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, then indeed have holy fasts been foreseen as necessary to us, so that those thing which have been divinely bestowed upon the Church may abide (i.e. continue to be present) in those who keep a pure manner of living. Through Christ our Lord.
St Leo: “Igitur post sanctae laetitiae dies, quos in honorem Domini a mortuis resurgentis, ac deinde in caelos ascendentis, exegimus, postque perceptum sancti Spiritus donum, salubriter et necessarie consuetudo est ordinata jejunii: ut si quid forte inter ipsa festivitatum gaudia negligens libertas et licentia inordinata praesumpsit, hoc religiosae abstinentiae censura castiget: quae ob hoc quoque studiosius exsequenda est, ut illa in nobis quae hac die Ecclesiae divinitus sunt collata permaneant.” (De jejunio Pentecostes I, 3)
Folio 83v of the Gellone Sacramentary, ca 780AD, with the preface cited above incorporated into the Mass of Ember Wednesday within the Octave of Pentecost in the middle of the page. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 12048)
But once the octave was instituted, some of the earliest liturgical sources split the Ember days away from it, and create separate texts for them. For several reasons, I believe that these sources nevertheless continue to reflect an earlier and original tradition in which the two celebrations were fused.
The Ember days originated in Rome, and many of their texts contain references to their Roman station churches, which are the same in all four seasons: Wednesday at St Mary Major, Friday at the church of the Twelve Apostles, and Saturday at St Peter’s basilica. Earlier this week, I explained that those of Pentecost are arranged in view of this tradition, and in imitation of those of the first week of Lent, which also includes Ember days.
Now it is true that some sources which split the octave of Pentecost from the summer Ember days change the station of the former on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but they all agree in keeping Wednesday at the Ember Day station, Mary Major, which strongly suggests that this is the original tradition. Likewise, these sources all have two readings before the Gospel on the festal Wednesday of Pentecost, a feature which is found only on the Wednesdays of the Ember weeks, the fourth week of Lent and Holy Week, but never found on a feast. (Easter Wednesday has only one epistle.)
Furthermore, most of the readings of the summer Ember days separated from Pentecost seem to have been chosen to go with the Masses of Pentecost, and in fact, refer to them far more than they do to the Embertide.
On Wednesday, the first reading, Wisdom 1, 1-7 is the source of the introit of Pentecost Sunday. “The spirit of the Lord hath filled the whole world: and that, which containeth all things, hath knowledge of the voice.” The second reading, Isaiah 44, 1-3, clearly reflects the feast’s ancient baptismal character. “I will pour out waters upon the thirsty ground, and streams upon the dry land: I will pour out my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thy stock.” The ferial Gospel is St Luke’s account of the feeding of the five thousand (chapter 9, 12-17), where that of the feast is taken from the Eucharistic discourse of John 6 (44-52.) Of course, in both cases, the emphasis on bread given by the Lord also refers to the Ember day as a thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth which provides of His goodness.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand, 1620-23 ca., by Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647). Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The Epistle of Friday, Joel 2, 23-24 and 26-27, is the prelude to the first reading of Saturday, verses 28-32, a passage which St Peter quotes in his sermon on the very first Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2. This first section, however, was also clearly chosen in reference to God as the true source of the fruits of the earth’s abundance. “He will make the early and the latter rain to come down to you … and the floors shall be filled with wheat, and the presses shall overflow with wine and oil. And you shall eat in plenty, and shall be filled: and you shall praise the name of the Lord your God.”
The Gospel, Luke 8, 41-56, is the healing of Jairus’ daughter and of the woman with the issue of blood, where that of Pentecost Friday, Luke 5, 17-26, is another healing, of the paralytic lowered through the roof.
The second and third readings of Ember Saturday (Lev. 23, 10-11; 15-21 and Deut. 26, 1-11) are about the Old Testament feast of Pentecost; the “signs and wonders” of Deut. 26, 9 reflect those of the first reading from Joel 2. The fourth, Lev. 26, is the only one that has nothing to do with Pentecost, but speaks solely of God’s providential care of those who obey Him.
“If you walk in my precepts, and keep my commandments, and do them, I will give you rain in due seasons. And the ground shall bring forth its increase, and the trees shall be filled with fruit. The threshing of your harvest shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land without fear.”
The fifth reading, that of the three Hebrew boys thrown into the furnace in Daniel 3, is common to all four Ember Saturdays. In the context of Pentecost, it may be understood in reference to the Holy Spirit that descended in tongues of fire. The New Testament Epistle, Romans 5, 1-5, also speaks of the Holy Spirit: “the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us.” The ferial Gospel, Matthew 20, 29-34, is the healing of the two blind men, where that of the feast is the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law among many others, and many possessed.
The Introit Caritas Dei, the text of which is taken from the Epistle.
Introitus (Rom. 5, 5) Cáritas Dei diffúsa est in córdibus nostris, allelúja, per inhabitantem Spíritum ejus in nobis, allelúja, allelúja. Ps. 102 Bénedic, ánima mea, Dómino: et omnia, quae intra me sunt, nómini sancto ejus. Gloria Patri... Cáritas Dei...
Introit The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, alleluia, by His Spirit dwelling in us, alleluia, alleluia. Ps. Bless the Lord, o my soul; and, all that is within me, bless His holy Name. Glory be... The charity of God...
On the festal side, the Epistle of Friday, Acts 2, 22-28, is simply the continuation of St Peter’s sermon on the first Pentecost, the first part of which was read on Wednesday. In that of Saturday, Act. 13, 44-52, Ss Paul and Barnabas preach in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia “on the sabbath”, (i.e., on a Saturday), but their preaching is rejected, and so they turn to the gentiles, “hearing it, were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord.” This refers to the fact that the Apostles were given the gifts of tongues on Pentecost so that they could preach to men of all nations, and not just to the Jews.
Lastly, it must be noted none of the ancient chant manuscripts says anything at all about the Masses for the summer Ember days as celebrated apart from the octave of Pentecost.
Taken altogether, these facts lead me to believe that the separation of the Ember days from the octave of Pentecost was a minority tradition that did not last long enough to be fully developed, and that their fusion, as we have in the Missal of St Pius V, is the original tradition from the time of the octave’s institution.

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