Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy

The mnemonic, which Fr Z gives, is intended to help us remember the times of the Ember Days throughout the year. More elegantly Fr Z cites “Fasting days and Emberings be / Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.” Fish-eaters provides the Latin:

Sant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia
Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria.

Which means:

Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost,
are when the quarter holidays follow.

Or simply

Lucy, Ashes, Dove, and Cross.

In other words the Ember Days  are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the Third Sunday of Advent, the Frist Sunday of Lent, Pentecost Sunday and Holy Cross Day, September 14th.  The reference to St. Lucy is that the Advent Ember Days cannot be celebrated until after St. Lucy Day, December 13th.

The etymology of the word ‘Ember’ is disputed but Dr. Neale’s account makes the most sense to me:

"The Latin name has remained in modern languages, though the contrary is sometimes affirmed, Quatuor Tempora, the Four Times. In French and Italian the term is the same; in Spanish and Portuguese they are simply Temporas. The German converts them into Quatember, and thence, by the easy corruption of dropping the first syllable, a corruption which also takes place in some other words, we get the English Ember. Thus, there is no occasion to seek after an etymology in embers; or with Nelson, to extravagate still further to the noun ymbren, a recurrence, as if all holy seasons did not equally recur. Ember-week in Wales is Welsh: "Wythnos y cydgorian", meaning "the Week of the Processions". In mediæval Germany they were called Weihfasten, Wiegfastan, Wiegefasten, or the like, on the general principle of their sanctity.... We meet with the term Frohnfasten, frohne being the then word for travail. Why they were named foldfasten it is less easy to say."

The original purpose of the Ember Days seems to have been an anti-pagan offensive on the part of the Church. The ancient Romans sacrificed to their deities in June, September and December to secure the success of the harvest. Nothing dies harder than matters connected with food and commerce.  So the Church added a Spring-Summer observance and established these four quarters of the year as times of fasting, penitence, prayer and processions.

The Ember Days were also deemed the proper time for ordinations, indeed at one point the only time for ordinations. Hence arose the custom of prayer for the clergy and vocations on the Ember Days.

The Ember Days are much neglected, but, if ever we needed to counter pagan culture, it is now. The old ways of darkness are much revived these days and the best antidote is the Old Religion.

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