As I settled down to supper and dowsed some bread (Italian) in olive oil (Greek, Kalamata) and enjoyed the reassuring gurgle of some wine (Gascon, ad honorem deiparae Virginis de Lapurdo nuncupatae) I thought of the exquisite biblical phrase 'the corn, the wine, and the oil'. And I recalled that the old Ember Days (commonly ignored now in the 'diocesan Church' ... today is an Ember Day!!) grew out of the old Mediterranean harvests (Pentecost: cereals; September: vintage; December: olives. See G G Willis 1964).
Some of the more intelligent American bishops are ordering the restoration in their jurisdictions of the Ember days. These are the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays of certain weeks which were celebrated as agricultural festivals in the Roman world. They were continued in the Roman Rite, but with a penitential sobriety intended to reform the excesses of the pagan celebrations. Because of the fasting, they became thought of as he ideal times for Ordinations. And so these admirable American bishops are suggesting the penitential use of the Ember Weeks in the context of the present very great crisis in the Church. Needless to say, the Ordinariate Missal retains the Ember Days.
But perhaps we had better start off with a fundamental point about the survival in the Roman Rite of Ember Days. And the theological point is this: our Faith is a Mediterranean faith, rooted in the agricultural communities of the Mediterranean basin, from the Hebrew Patriarchs onwards ... let us never forget that our Hebrew Faith is not 2,000 years old, but three (at least) thousand. And our sacraments are inextricably bound up with the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil. And the denial of the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil is the basic heresy, the elemental root of all error.
I don't only have in mind the iniquity of anti-alcoholism, although that is part of it. The Gnostics, creation-denying dualists, celebrated 'eucharists' in water, and we can share the righteous disgust of that acute theologian Dr Augustus Fagan ("Lloyd George, the temperance movement, Nonconformity, and lust stalking hand in hand through the country, wasting and ravaging"). The fact that Methodists and others commonly use substances other than wine in their communion services is not, as professional ecumenists try to get away with implying, some minor detail, easily fudged. And the disappearance of the Chrism in Protestantism is a real apostasy.
But more insidious still is the idea that the principle of inculturation could be applied to the elements used in the Christian sacraments. I have known suggestions that to use bread made from something other than wheat, alcohol produced not from grapes, and the oil of vegetables other than olives, would 'affirm' cultures which do not find their origins in the Mediterranean basin. This seems to be based on the notion that Christianity is an idea; and ideas can, in different cultures, be garbed in different clothes. That is what is the basic heresy. Because Christianity is not an idea. It is a Person, a God who took flesh - a particular flesh - from a particular Girl in a particular country in a particular culture. This is why the Liturgy insistently proclaims that Blessed Mary, single-handed, puts down all the heresies in universo mundo.
And that God, born of her ovaries, in that flesh died on a Cross made from a particular Tree: "One of the Trinity died upon the Cross". And He did so after He had, on a particular evening, given Himself to His friends under the outer appearances of a loaf and a cupful of wine. This particularity and this materiality, this rootedness, is Christianity. That is why the Gnostics were not Christians, and why Matthew Fox is not a Christian. And the Matter of the Sacraments is rooted in the particularity of that Incarnation and its culture.
Without the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil, nulla salus.