Feria Quarta Quattuor Temporum Septembris: Missa “Exsultáte Deo”
It’s common to claim that the dates of important Christian feasts (such as Christmas) were set to compete with or replace certain pagan festivals, even though the best scholarship indicates otherwise. In the case of the Ember Days, however, it’s true. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes:
The Romans were originally given to agriculture, and their native gods belonged to the same class. At the beginning of the time for seeding and harvesting religious ceremonies were performed to implore the help of their deities: in June for a bountiful harvest, in September for a rich vintage, and in December for the seeding.
The Ember Days are a perfect example of how the Church (in the words of the Catholic Encyclopedia) “has always tried to sanctify any practices which could be utilized for a good purpose.” The adoption of the Ember Days wasn’t an attempt to displace Roman paganism so much as it was a way to avoid disrupting the lives of Roman converts to Christianity. The pagan practice, though directed at false gods, was praiseworthy; all that was necessary was to transfer the supplications to the true God of Christianity.
The adoption of Ember Days by Christians happened so early that Pope Leo the Great (440-61) considered the Ember Days (with the exception of the one in the spring) to have been instituted by the Apostles. By the time of Pope Gelasius II (492-96), the fourth set of Ember Days had been instituted. Originally celebrated only by the Church in Rome, they spread throughout the West (but not the East), starting in the fifth century.
The Ember Days are celebrated with fasting (no food between meals) and half-abstinence, meaning that meat is allowed at one meal per day. (If you observe the traditional Friday abstinence from meat, then you would observe complete abstinence on an Ember Friday.)
As always, such fasting and abstinence has a greater purpose. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, through these activities, and through prayer, we use the Ember Days to “thank God for the gifts of nature, . . . teach men to make use of them in moderation, and . . . assist the needy.”
INTROIT Psalm 80:2-5
Sing joyfully to God our strength; acclaim the God of Jacob. Take up a pleasant psalm with the harp; blow the trumpet in the beginning of the month; for it is a statute in Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob. Ps 80:6 He made it a decree for Joseph, when he came forth from the land of Egypt: he heard an unfamiliar speech. v. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Let us pray.
V. Let us kneel.
May our frailty, we beseech You, O Lord, find support in the help of Your mercy; so that what is marred by its own nature may be restored by Your grace. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.
Lesson Amos 9:13-15
Thus says the Lord God: Yes, days are coming, when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the vintager, him who sows the seed; the juice of grapes shall drip down the mountains, and all the hills shall run with it. I will bring about the restoration of My people Israel; they shall rebuild and inhabit their ruined cities, plant vineyards and drink the wine, set out gardens and eat the fruits. I will plant them upon their own ground; never again shall they be plucked from the land I have given them, say I, the Lord, your God.
R. Thanks be to God.
Gradual Ps 112:5-7
Who is like the Lord, our God, Who is enthroned on high and looks upon the heavens and the earth below? V. He raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill He lifts up the poor.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.
Let us pray.
O Lord, we beseech You, grant to Your praying household that, as they fast from bodily food, they may also abstain mentally from sin. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.
Lesson 2 Esdra 8:1-10
In those days, all the people were gathered together as one man, to the street which is before the water-gate, and they spoke to Esdras the scribe, to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel. Then Esdras the priest brought the law before the multitude of men and women, and all those that could understand, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read it plainly in the street that was before the water-gate, from the morning until midday, before the men and the women and all those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book. And Esdras the scribe stood upon a step of wood, which he made to speak upon. And he opened the book before all the people, for he was above all the people; and when he had opened it, all the people stood. And Esdras blessed the Lord the great God, and all the people answered, Amen, Amen, lifting up their hands: and they bowed down, and adored God, with their faces to the ground. Now the Levites made silence among the people to hear the law; and the people stood in their place: and they read in the book of the law of God distinctly and plainly to be understood; and they understood when it was read. And Nehemias, and Esdras the priest and scribe, and the Levites who interpreted to all the people, said, This is a holy day to the Lord our God; do not mourn nor weep. And he said to them, Go, eat fat meats and drink sweet wine, and send portions to them that have not prepared for themselves; because it is the holy day of the Lord, and be not sad, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.
GRADUAL Ps 32:12, 6.
Happy the nation whose God is the Lord, the people the Lord has chosen for His own inheritance. V. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made; by the breath of His mouth all their host.
GOSPEL Mark 9:16-28
At that time, one of the crowd answering, said to Jesus, Master, I have brought to You my son, who has a dumb spirit; and wherever it seizes him it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth; and he is wasting away. And I told Your disciples to cast it out, but they could not. And He answered and said to the, O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me. And they brought him to Him; and the spirit, when it saw Jesus, immediately threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell down on the ground, and rolled about foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, How long is it since this has come upon him? And he said, From his infancy. Oftentimes it has thrown him into the fire and into the waters to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us. But Jesus said to him, If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes. At once the father of the boy cried out, and said with tears, I do believe; help my unbelief. Now when Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering. He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, go out of him and enter him no more. And crying out and violently convulsing him, it went out of him, and he became like one dead, so that many said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and raised him and he stood up. And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, Why could not we cast it out? And He said to them, This kind can be cast out in no way except by prayer and fasting.
OFFERTORY ANTIPHON Psalm 118:47-48
I will delight in Your commands, which I love exceedingly. And I will lift up my hands to Your commands, which I love.
May this offering, O Lord, we beseech You, wipe away our transgressions, and make holy the minds and bodies of Your servants for celebrating this sacrifice. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
PREFACE of the Common
It is truly meet and just, and profitable unto salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, through Christ, our Lord. Though whom the angels praise thy majesty, the dominions adore it, the powers are in awe. Which the heavens and the hosts of heaven together with the blessed seraphim joyfully do magnify. And do thou command that it be permitted to us join with them in confessing thee, while we say with lowly praise:
COMMUNION ANTIPHON 2 Esd. 8:10
Eat fat meats, and drink sweet wine, and send portions to those who have not prepared for themselves: because it is the holy day of the Lord, be not sad, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.
In partaking of Your heavenly gifts, we humbly entreat You, O Lord, that by Your grace we may receive what, through Your bounty, we perform in diligent service. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.