13 December 2021

Liturgical Inventions (1)

 I will be frank with you: I do not know when Christmas was invented. I accept provisionally the theory that, the Lord's Passion having been dated to March 25, His Conception was assumed to be on that same date, so that December 25 appears as His Day of Birth. I certainly don't believe that Christmas is a Christianisation of the pagan festival of the Unconquered Sun. When, in a day or two's time, some pompous journalist or other informs us of that, remember that historical consensus is now that Sol Invictus is a late paganisation of Christmas, rather than the other way round.

This week we observe in the Roman Rite the Advent Ember Days. Originally, there were only three Ember periods ... the Lent Ember is a later confection. So we have the Embers now fixed on Whit Week, which many of us think perpetuates the Pagan Roman Wheat Harvest; the September Ember week, occupying the same slot as the Roman Vintage celebrations; and this week's Ember, which comes at the same time as the feriae sementinae (or sementivae): "Sowing Time". (For the Hebrew background, vide Zech. 8:19.)

And these splendid Traditional seasons are, in their origins, Fasts. Just so, the pagan festivals were periods when the Romans begged the gods to stay away from the crops. Forget the rich pantheon of anthropomorphic Greek divinities: the Romans, until they became Hellenised, trafficked with gods such as Mildew (Robigo); they sacrificed to him (or her?)  to stay away from their fields and crops. It has been wittily and justly observed that, if the Romans had had bicycles, they would have sacrificed to Punctura to get her (or him?) to stay away from their tyres. 

Perhaps this is at least one contributory reason why, historically, the Embers were fasts rather than festive Victorian Anglican occasions for parish merriment and great heavy plonking metrical hymns (... the Good seed in the land ...). Those who say the Breviary Office will recall that, yesterday in the second nocturn, S Leo reminded his hearers decimi mensis celebrandum esse ieiunium, quo pro consummata perceptione omnium fructuum, dignissime largitori eorum Deo continentiae libamen offertur.)

There is evidence that this week's Ember, the Ember of the tenth month, was originally the senior Ember, only occasion when Ordinations happened in Rome.

Did I say "Tenth"?

To be concluded.


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Here are a few sources for the date of the brith of Jesus:


Alfred Edersheim, in his "The Life and Times of Jesus"

And yet Jewish tradition may here prove both illustrative and helpful. That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, was a settled conviction. Equally so, was the belief , that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, 'the tower of the flock.' This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheepground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah [951] leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices [952], and, accordingly, that the shepherds, who watched over them, were not ordinary shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism, on account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible. The same Mishnaic passage also leads us to infer, that these flocks lay out all the year round, since they are spoken of as in the fields thirty days before the Passover -- that is, in the month of February, when in Palestine the average rainfall is nearly greatest. 

Thus, Jewish tradition in some dim manner apprehended the first revelation of the Messiah from that Migdal Eder, where shepherds watched the Temple-flocks all the year round. Of the deep symbolic significance of such a coincidence, it is needless to speak. 

It was, then, on that ‘wintry night’ of the 25th of December, that shepherds watched the flocks destined for sacrificial services, in the very place consecrated by tradition as that where the Messiah was to be first revealed. 


Richard Down said...

why has the Ordinarite Rite moved the Advent Ember Days to the first week?

Banshee said...

Sheep in Israel were of a "fat tail" breed, and they had different breeding/fat-feeding times than in the US or UK. They also could have up to six horns per sheep, which makes the Revelation Lamb imagery not nearly as weird.

Can't help you with dragons. Although if you think about it, snakes can have more than one head in nature. But they usually stop at two.