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Catholic Prayer: Brief Meditations on the Church Year: Advent Ember Days


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Three meditations for each of the Ember Days in Advent. These are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the feast of St. Lucy on December 13.

Written by Monsignor Martin Hellriegel from Vine and Branches, Pio Decimo Press, 1948.

These meditations are attached to the 1962 Missal. The current lectionary has different readings and prayers not specific to the Ember Days.


Station "With St. Mary Major"

"He was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary" (Credo)

Today's Eucharistic solemnity is known as "Missa area, the golden Mass" which, in the days of greater faith, was observed as a most solemn day.

One this day the Church renders present the adorable mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the mystery which sent golden rays of hope and life into a helpless and sin-laden world. What occurred nineteen centuries ago in the chaste womb of Mary—"a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel" is re-enacted today in the virginal bosom of the Church. In the Holy Sacrifice, the golden Mass, the heavens will drop the divine Dew (introit) upon our altar, into our hearts. At consecration we can exclaim with joy and gratitude: "Et incarnatus est!", the incarnate Mercy of God is with the Church, is with us. "Et homo factus est!", the Man-God, Christ the Savior is in our midst, the Emmanuel, our God, is with HIs people.

"Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and the King of glory shall enter in" (gradual). Come to the divine Table with faith and purity! Speak the word of Mary: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to Thy word." In the sacred Banquet your soul will conceive and bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel, God with you." The gift of salvation of which you partake with joy will be to you a wellspring of spiritual renewal (cf. postcommunion).

But today is also the first of the three Advent Ember days. Let us take to heart the words of St. Leo the Great spoken fifteen centuries ago: "Dearly beloved, it is our duty as shepherds of your souls to exhort you to the observance of the December fast. Now that the fruits of the earth have bene gathered in, it is most fitting that this sacrifice of abstinence should be offered to God who has so bountifully bestowed them upon us. And what can be more useful to this end than fasting? For by its observance we draw near to God, we resist the devil, and overcome the allurements of vice. Fasting has ever been the support of virtue. From abstinence spring chaste thoughts, reasonable desires and salutary counsels. By voluntary mortifications the lusts of the flesh are extinguished and the soul receives new strength.

"But since fasting alone will not obtain health for our souls, let us add to our fasting works of mercy to the poor. Let us spend in good works what we deny to indulgence. Let the abstinence of him who fasts become the banquet of the poor. Therefore, let us fast on Wednesday and Friday, and on Saturday let us keep vigil with blessed Peter the Apostle, that through his merits we may obtain what we ask, through Our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth for ever and ever. Amen."

Let us recommend to our blessed Mother the deacons who are about to receive the grace of Christ's priesthood. Mother of the divine Highpriest, Mother of all priests, bless thy devoted servants, take them under thy maternal mantel, that they may always be faithful in dispensing to their flock the mystery of the Incarnate Son of God, thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our gift at today's offertory will be: To recite with greater fervor the Angelus; to keep the three Ember days in the spirit of the Church, to offer the eucharistic Sacrifice, our prayers and good works for the priests of the Lord, in particular, for those who are about to be raised to the dignity of ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God.

Station "With the Twelve Apostles"

"Magnificat anima mea Dominum!"

Mary her great 'Fiat'. Gabriel has carried her answer to God's throne. The Holy Spirit has overshadowed her. Mary is now Virgin and Mother, the blessed tree in the midst of the new Paradise bearing the fruit of life. "He that shall find me, shall find life and shall have salvation from the Lord."

"With haste" the Virgin Mother leaves Nazareth and goes up to Judea to render service to an expectant mother. "Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord" (introit). "With haste" she pursues her journey, "because the grace of the Holy Spirit knows no slow working" (St. Ambrose), all the while "rejoicing in God her Savior" whom she is carrying with inexpressible love in her chaste womb.

The Mother of God with the Son of God on her way to a hill country, to the home of Zachary and Elizabeth, radiating peace and joy! Mary salutes Elizabeth, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and her predestined child is sanctified, leaping for joy in his mother's womb.

And now the divine Spirit descends on Mary, replenishment with such an abundance of heavenly sweetness, that from a heart overflowing with gratitude she chants that sublime canticle which henceforth shall resound throughout the age: "Magnificat, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior...He that is mighty has done great things unto me, and holy is His name."

Today Mother Church renders present this particular event of the work of redemption. Today our Holy Lord will continue in us the saving work wrought from within the sanctuary of His Mother's bosom for Elizabeth and her herald-son, John, a truth so strikingly expressed in the postcommunion: "May the holy reception of this sacrament renew our inner life, cleanse us from our former ways and make us partakers of the mystery of salvation."

In conclusion let us take to heart the words of St. Ambrose addressed to a group of virgins, and read in today's divine office: "You have learnt, O virgins, the modesty of Mary. Learn also her humility. She went as a relative to her relative, the younger to the elder; and not only did she go there, but she first greeted Elizabeth. For the most chaste a virgin is, the more humble should she be. She will know how to submit to her elders. She who professes chastity should be mistress of humility. For humility is the root of piety, and the very rule of its teaching. It is to be noted that the superior comes to the inferior so that the inferior may be assisted, Mary comes to Elizabeth, Christ to John."

"He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the humble!"

Let us pray:
"Stir up Thy might, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come: that they who trust in Thy goodness may be more speedily delivered from all adversity" (Collect).

Holy Apostles of Christ, pray for us!

Station "With St. Peter"

"Come, Lord and show us Thy face" (Introit)

For centuries this Ember Saturday was the only day in the Church's year for the conferring of holy orders. Now-a-days the sixth sacrament is administered also on other days, feast days and Sundays. But Mother Church has always favored her Ember days as most appropriate for elevating her levites to the Priesthood of Christ, her Bridegroom.

May this Ember day awaken in us a deeper appreciation of the holiness and power of the Catholic priesthood. The sacrament of holy orders places the priest on a high mountain to bring good tidings to Sion, commissions him to lift up his voice with strength, to bring good tidings to Jerusalem. The priest assures his flock: "Behold your God! Behold the Lord God shall come with strength, and His arm shall rule! Behold His reward is with Him, and His work is before Him. He shall feed the flock like a shepherd, He shall gather go together the lambs with His arm, and take them up in His bosom, the Lord our God" (cf. 3rd lesson).

Between priests and people must exist an "admirable commercium", a "wondrous exchange" of giving and taking. The priest as "minister of Christ and dispenser of the mysteries of God" must spend himself for his people, and so attain to eternal life together with the flock committed to his care. The flock must support him by prayer, co-operation and good will so thatvas the ordination prayer says--"he may always discharge the duties of his ministry towards God in complete readiness." Shepherd and flock must support one another and thus fulfill the law of Christ.

It is meet and just at all times, but especially in these days of preparation for Christmas, to pray fervently of our priests that the Holy Spirit may fill them with His seven-fold gifts, gifts so necessary for "bringing the tidings of great joy to all the people." The Church is in need—today more than ever—of holy priests, of men full of zeal for God's Kingdom, of shepherds with love for the flock, of fathers who will break the bread of life to their children, of "anointed Cyruses" (4th lesson) who will lead men from the Babylonian captivity of sin and misery to the promised land of liberty and peace.

May blessed Peter the Apostle to whom the eternal Highpriest entrusted His lambs and sheep, and with whom we keep this venerable Ember day, bless priests and people. May he obtain from our Lord Jesus Christ what we ask: Holiness of life, mutual respect and charity, loyalty to the Church and the Apostolic See to both shepherds and flock.

"Come, Lord, and show us—priests and people—Thy face!"

Prayer Source: Vine and Branches by The Very Rev. Martin B. Hellriegel, Pio Decimo Press, 1948