‘For the third time this year, Holy Church comes claiming from her children the tribute of Penance which, from the earliest ages of Christianity, was looked upon as a solemn consecration of the Seasons.
The beginnings of the Winter, Spring, and Autumn quarters were sanctified by abstinence and fasting, and each of them, in turn, has witnessed heaven’s blessing falling upon their respective three months; and now, Autumn is harvesting the fruits which, divine mercy, appeased by the satisfactions made by sinful man, has vouchsafed to bring forth from the bosom of the earth, notwithstanding the curse that still hangs over her. The precious seed of wheat, on which man’s life mainly depends, was confided to the soil in the season of the yearly frosts, and with the first fine days, peeped above the ground; at the approach of glorious Easter, it carpeted our fields with its velvet of green, making them ready to share in the universal joy of Jesus’ resurrection; then, turning into a lovely image of what our souls ought to have been in the season of Pentecost, its stem grew up under the action of the hot sun; the golden ear promised a hundredfold to its master; the harvest made the reapers glad; and now that September has come, it calls on man to fix his heart on that good God, who gave him all this store. Let him not think of saying, as that rich man of the Gospel did, after a plentiful harvest of fruits: My soul! thou hast much goods laid up for many years! take thy rest! eat! drink! make good cheer! And God said to that man: Thou fool! this night, do they require thy soul of thee! and whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? Surely, there is too much of the Christian among us to allow us to be senseless in that way. If we would be truly rich with God, if we would draw down his blessing on the preservation, as well as on the production, of the fruits of the earth, let us, at the beginning of this last quarter of the year, have recourse to those penitential exercises, whose beneficial effects we have always experienced in the past. The Church gives us the commandment to do so, by obliging us, under penalty of grievous sin, to abstain and fast on these three days, unless we be lawfully dispensed.
Let us not, in our prayers and fasts, forget the new Priests and other Ministers of the Church who... are to receive the imposition of hands. The September ordination is not usually the most numerous of those given by the Bishop during the year. The sublime function to which the Faithful owe their Fathers and Guides in the spiritual life has, however, a special interest at this period of the year, which, more than any other, is in keeping with the present state of the world, which is one of rapid decline towards ruin. Our Year, too, is on the fall, as we say. The sun, which beheld rising at Christmas, as a giant who would burst the bonds of frost asunder and restrain the tyranny of darkness - now, as though he had grown wearied, is drooping towards the horizon; each day we see him gradually leaving that glorious zenith, where we admired his dazzling splendour, on the day of our Emmanuel’s Ascension; his fire has lost its might; and though he still holds half the day as his, his disc is growing pale, which tells us of the coming on of those long nights when Nature, stripped of all her loveliness by angry storms, seems as though she would bury herself forever in the frozen shroud which is to bind her. So it is with our world. Illumined as it was by the light of Christ and glowing with the fire of the Holy Ghost, it sees in these our days that charity is growing cold, and that the light and glow it had from the Sun of Justice are on the wane. Each revolution takes from the Church some jewel or other, which does not come back to her when the storm is over; tempests are so frequent that tumult is becoming the natural state of the times. Error predominates and lays down the law. Iniquity abounds. It is our Lord himself who said: When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find, think ye, Faith on earth?
Lift up, then, your heads, ye children of God! for your redemption is at hand. But from now until that time shall come, when heaven and earth are to be made new for the reign that is to be eternal, and shall bloom in the light of the Lamb, the Conqueror, days far worse than these must dawn upon this world of ours, when the elect themselves would be deceived, if that were possible! How important is it not, in these miserable times, that the Pastors of the flock of Christ be equal to their perilous and sublime vocation; let us then fast and pray; and how numerous soever may be the losses sustained in the Christian ranks of those who once were faithful in the practices of penance, let us not lose courage. Few as we may be, let us group ourselves closely round the Church, and implore of that Jesus, who is her Spouse, that he vouchsafe to multiply his gifts in those whom he is calling to the - now more than ever - dread honour of the Priesthood; that he infuse into them his divine prudence, whereby they may be able to disconcert the plans of the impious; his untiring zeal for the conversion of ungrateful souls; his perseverance even unto death in maintaining, without reticence or compromise, the plenitude of that truth which he has destined for the world, and the unviolated custody of which is to be, on the last Day, the solemn testimony of the Bride’s fidelity’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, to us thy humble servants: that we, who do refrain ourselves from carnal feastings,
may likewise fast from sin within our souls; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Collect for the Ember Wednesday in September, from Divine Worship: The Missal
‘The Ember days of the “seventh month,” September (from septem meaning “seven”; September was formerly the seventh month in the calendar, March being the first) have retained more of their original “ember" character (i.e., a time of thanksgiving and spiritual renewal) than the other Ember days, which reflect more or less the spirit of the current liturgical season. Three themes are prominent in the Masses, that of harvest, that of the Jewish feasts of the seventh month, that of spiritual renewal. Originally the autumn Ember days commemorated a “wine-press feast,” and this accounts for the many references to the subject.
Secondly, the Jewish festivities during the seventh month were prognostic of the Christian Ember liturgy. For among the Jews three feasts were kept, the civil new year at the beginning of the month; the Day of Expiation, a day of strict penance on which the high priest entered the Holy of Holies with sacrificial blood; and, thirdly, the feast of Tabernacles, the joyful harvest festival which likewise was a memorial of the time Israel dwelt in tents while on the journey through the wilderness. Our present Ember days are not without relation to the Jewish feast of Tabernacles, the time at which the people lived in twig houses.
And lastly, the Ember days mean serious spiritual renewal, an occasion at which we ought to pray and fast and do penance. The character, then, of this week is thanksgiving and penance’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
'Thou, O man, hast two enemies, sin and death, that is to say, the death of the soul and the death of the body. Christ is come to conquer both, and from both will He save thee. Only be not afraid. Even already He has vanquished sin in His own Person by taking upon Himself our human nature, free from all defilement. For great violence was done to sin, and it manifestly sustained a heavy defeat, when that very nature which it boasted of having entirely corrupted and completely subdued, was found in Christ wholly reclaimed from it. After this first victory, He "will pursue after (thy) enemies and overtake them, and (He) will not turn back again till they are consumed". Fighting against sin during His mortal existence, He will oppose it with His words and example; in His passion He will bind it, He will bind "the strong man and plunder his house". Then, as regards death, He will in the same manner and order vanquish it first in Himself, when He rises from the tomb, "the first-fruits of them that sleep... the First-Begotten of the dead". Afterwards He will overcome it in us also, when He will raise up again our mortal bodies: so shall our enemy, death, be at last destroyed. Therefore will He be "clothed with beauty" at His resurrection, not, as now in His nativity, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Therefore He whose Heart is now brimming over with mercy, Who now judgeth no man, will then, at His rising, gird Himself, and with the cincture of justice will seem to restrain, so to speak, the flowing robes of His mercy. For from that time He shall be prepared for the judgement, which is reserved for our resurrection. And therefore He comes now as a Little One, in order to give mercy the precedence, and that mercy, going before, may temper the severity of the final judgement which must follow'.
from the first sermon for Christmas Day by St Bernard of Clairvaux, 1090-1153
O God, by whose grace the blessed Abbot Bernard, kindled with the fire of thy love,
became a burning and a shining light in thy Church: grant, at his intercession;
that we may be inflamed with the same spirit of love, and ever walk before thee as children of light;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Divine Worship: The Missal
'The Lenten journey, in which we are invited to contemplate the Mystery of the Cross, is meant to reproduce within us "the pattern of his death" (Ph 3:10), so as to effect a deep conversion in our lives; that we may be transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit, like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus; that we may firmly orient our existence according to the will of God; that we may be freed of our egoism, overcoming the instinct to dominate others and opening us to the love of Christ. The Lenten period is a favourable time to recognise our weakness and to accept, through a sincere inventory of our life, the renewing Grace of the Sacrament of Penance, and walk resolutely towards Christ.
Through the personal encounter with our Redeemer and through fasting, almsgiving and prayer, the journey of conversion towards Easter leads us to rediscover our Baptism. This Lent, let us renew our acceptance of the Grace that God bestowed upon us at that moment, so that it may illuminate and guide all of our actions. What the Sacrament signifies and realises, we are called to experience every day by following Christ in an ever more generous and authentic manner. In this our itinerary, let us us entrust ourselves to the Virgin Mary, who generated the Word of God in faith and in the flesh, so that we may immerse ourselves - just as she did - in the death and resurrection of her Son Jesus, and possess eternal life.'
from Rediscovering our Baptism: Message for Lent 2011, given at the Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI
Fr Lee Kenyon
Priest, Husband, Father, Lancastrian, Mancunian