9 September 2008

Sept Ember

We drove a few miles south of Oxford the other day, to a party. Richard Liwicki, who entered Lancing College as a pupil the same term in 1973 as I began my three decades there of priestly ministry and teaching Latin, Greek, and Theology, owns The Bothy Vineyard and he (and wife Sian) are feeling quite cheerful because one of their yummy products has won a prestigious prize for English wines. The party was for those who help them with the picking, as well as for odds and ends like us.

And now we come ( bear with me, there is a continuity here) to the September Ember Days, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of next week. There are four Ember seasons in the year (hence the Latin name Quattuor Tempora, the Four Times). I am giving a word of explanation because, while the Church of England and followers of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (categories which are not without a certain overlap) still retain them in the Calendar, the post-Conciliar Church in its wisdom has more-or-less abolished them.

The Ember seasons seem to have been Christian replacements for the old Roman pagan celebrations of the various harvests; Roman religion operated on a principle of propitiating the gods so as to dissuade them from visiting the crops with pestilence and ruin (it is often a matter of deploying legalistic formulae to get the gods ...for example Robigo, Mildew ... to stay away! Theophanies, for the pagan Romans, were regarded as disastrous!). The September Ember marks the time of the Mediterranean vintage (Richard's comes a bit later). Which is why the old Ember Masses are full of references (look in your English Missals or EF prayer books and see how many you can spot) to the fruits of the Earth and not least must and wine.

Because they were celebrated with fasting, the Embers were regarded as suitable times for preparing for ordinations; which accordingly happened at the Saturday Vigil - which is why the Saturday Ember masses are so long. They have six readings, which were originally twelve because they were sung in Latin and Greek. It is as times for Ordinations that the Embers retain their status in the C of E; and the Prayer Book Calendar still orders them to be kept as Fasts.

Not that many people do; except, I presume, for members of the Prayer Book Society who, if they stick to their principles, must fast more than any other Western Christians! Think twice before joining it!

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