28 February 2023

Ember Days? (1)

So this first full week of Lent is also an Ember Week!

But, er, what does that mean?

Originally, there were only three Ember Seasons: around Pentecost; in September;  in December. They arose (I still suspect) out of the old pagan Roman celebrations of harvests: respectively, of the harvests of the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil. There were special Masses on the Wednesdays, the Fridays, and the Saturdays within these three weeks.

But unlike more recent harvest celebrations, they were decidedly sober occasions. The Community fasted!

The fast appears to have led to the association of Ordinations with the Ember Weeks, since it is appropriate to approach the Sacrament of Holy Order with prayer and self-denial and even exorcism. The actual Ordinations would be done during an all-night vigil between Saturday and Sunday. The minor Orders, followed by the Major Orders, were conferred one after another in the gaps within the series of Readings.


So how does it come about that we have an Ember week at this time of the year? How did Tria Tempora mutate into Quattuor Tempora? ["Three Seasons" into "Four Seasons".] After all, February and March, in our Northern hemisphere, are not months one would immediately associate with Harvest!

To be concluded. I have tried to find a path through data mainly given by the great Anglican liturgist, student and admirer of the Classical Roman Rite, Fr G G Willis [Essays in Early Roman Liturgy, 1964]. And I have made a few connections of my own.. I do not find Talley convincing.


George Lee said...

Father Hunwicke, I am puzzled about the use of the term "corn". Should not the text read "wheat"? Corn existed only in North and South America during the period we are considering. Even more telling, corn is harvested in the late summer, around Sept. 1 here in Virginia...Wheat on the other hand is harvested in the spring.
I suspect the confusion arises from the use of the term "kernel..."

All Best from G.E.Lee a faithful admirer...

Wynn said...

G. E. Lee: We have here a mismatch of trans-Atlantic terminology. On this side of the pond, “corn” is a generic term meaning whatever happens to be the main cereal crop in a given region (wheat, oats, etc.), while what Americans call “corn” we would more typically call “maize”. Hope this helps.

frjustin said...

When the ladies of the Grail in England were translating what is now known as the Grail Psalter, they translated Psalm 4 used in Compline as 'You have put into my heart a greater joy / than they have from abundance of corn and new wine'. This translation was incorporated into the officially approved version still used in the U.S and elsewhere, and generations of American Catholics may have visions of Iowa cornfields when they pray this psalm.

The Oxford English Dictionary notes that 'corn':

- is often understood to denote that kind of cereal which is the leading crop of the district; hence in the greater part of England 'corn' is='wheat', in North Britain and Ireland='oats'; in the U.S. the word, as short for 'Indian corn', is restricted to 'maize'.

- Wheat, rye, barley, oats, etc. are in U.S. called collectively 'grain'.

Chris said...

The word corn existed long before any English speakers encountered the new world species. It is habitually used by the Authorised Version and other translations of similar age, and our host is referencing the triplet of "corn and wine and oil" which occurs throughout the Old Testament (particularly familiar from Psalm 4, traditionally used daily at Compline.)

William Tighe said...

"Corn existed only in North and South America during the period we are considering."

"Corn" was a general term for any cereal crop, such as barley, oats or wheat before it became narrowed, in American English, to denote "maize" or "Indian corn." In British English it retains its earlier denotation.

Joshua said...

I believe the word "corn" originally applied to wheat - hence the (in)famous English "Corn Laws" dealt with wheat, despite not being "Wheat Laws" [sic]. What was once called "maize" was also called "Indian corn", which was shortened to "corn", thus appropriating an Old World name to a New World staple. It's all rather like "hound" was originally the name of the species, whereas "dog" was a breed of hounds, but pars pro toto and all that, if you will.

John F H H said...

I suspect that the confusion may arise from "two nations separated by a common language"?

In British English corn refers to edible cereal crops, principally wheat, but also oats and barley.
I suspect that in North America corn may refer principally(exclusively?) to maize / sweetcorn /Indian corn/corn on the cob?

William said...

Corn here means grain (frumentum or fruges?). In England corn is the usual word for wheat or barley - consider Constable’s painting ’The Cornfield’. In Italy the wheat harvest would be in June. In England we have Lammas (loaf-mass) to celebrate the first bread baked with the new corn at the beginning of August. Maize (sweetcorn) came later in history.

Victor said...

I wonder - when was the tradition of celebrating ordinations on ember Saturday given up?

Grant Milburn said...

Corn and Grain both derive from Proto-Indo European *greno, corn via Proto-Germanic *kurnam, and grain via Latin granum and Old French grein, grain.



Eric said...

Having a special day of fasting during the First Week of Lent - when everybody is already fasting has never made any sense to me. In addition, the timing of the Ember days during the Octave of Pentecost doesn't really make a whole lot of sense either: one would think that the time between the Ascension and Pentecost would be more appropriate for fasting.

Can anyone give a good explanation to help me understand this?