Today’s station is at the Church of the Twelve Apostles. Traditionally, this is the place where the Romans choose their candidates for priesthood (Rite of Election). It was erected by Julius I (337-352) over the barracks of ancient Rome’s firemen and entrusted since 1463 to the Conventual Franciscans. Originally dedicated to the Apostles St. James and St. Philip, it was rededicated to all the Apostles in the 16th century.
Today we travel to Santi Apostoli, the church of the Holy Apostles, to visit the tomb of apostles, Saint Philip and Saint James the Less. That we visit the church today on Friday of the Quattro Tempora di Primavera, is not by chance. This was traditionally a day when the public would approve candidates for the priesthood who would then come here pray for guidance from the Holy Apostles.
A church existed on this site from as early as the fourth century. In the sixth century it was rebuilt and dedicated to Saints Philip and James the Less when their relics were brought here from the East. It was later dedicated to all the apostles.
An addition to the tombs of Philip and James the Less, here too are the relics of martyrs moved from the Apronian catacombs. Pope Stephen IV is said to have helped in moving the relics himself, walking barefoot through the city carrying them on his shoulders.
A priest by the name of Father Felice served at this church before taking the name Pope Sixtus V. He would then go on to help build the Rome we know today by leveling much of the medieval city and building magnificent churches connected by grand boulevards.
Another person who helped shape Rome, Michelangelo, spent his last days living nearby and used this church as his parish. When he died, he was buried in this church. His body was later moved, some say stolen, to Florence where he is now buried in the church of Santa Croce.
The Ember Days Are…
- The Old Law prescribes a “fast of the fourth month, and a fast of the fifth, and a fast of the seventh, and a fast of tenth” (Zechariah 8:19). There was also a Jewish custom at the time of Jesus to fast every Tuesday and Thursday of the week.
- The first Christians amended both of these customs, fasting instead on every Wednesday and Friday: Wednesday because it is the day that Christ was betrayed, and Friday because it is the day that He was slain. (And we now know that this biweekly fast is actually older than some books of the New Testament). Later, Christians from both East and West added their own commemorations of the seasons.
- The Ember Days thus perfectly express and reflect the essence of Christianity. Christianity does not abolish the Law but fulfills it (Mt. 5:17) by following the spirit of the Law rather than its letter. Thus, not one iota of the Law is to be neglected (Mt. 5:18), but every part is to be embraced and continued, albeit on a spiritual, or figurative, level. And living in this spirit is nothing less than living out the New Covenant.
- The Apostles preached one and the same faith wherever they went, but sometimes instituted different customs and practices. Thus, Christians came to love not only the universal faith but the particular apostolic traditions which had initiated them into that faith.
- The Roman appropriation of the Ember Days involved adding one day: Saturday. This was seen as the culmination of the Ember Week. A special Mass and procession to St. Peter’s in Rome was held, and the congregation was invited to “keep vigil with Peter.”
- Observing the Ember Days, therefore, not only celebrates our continuity with sacred history, but with our own ecclesiastical tradition.
- But continuity is not important because of a blind loyalty to one’s own or a feeling of nostalgia. On the contrary, the Christian fulfillment of the Law is important because of its pedagogical value. Everything in the Law (not to mention the rest of the Bible) is meant to teach us something fundamental about God, His redemptive plan for us, or the nature of the universe, often on levels that are not initially apparent to us. In the case of both the Hebrew seasonal fasts and the Christian Ember Days, we are invited to consider the wonder of the natural seasons and their relation to God. The seasons, for example, can be said to intimate individually the bliss of Heaven, where there is “the beauty of spring, the brightness of summer, the plenty of autumn, the rest of winter” (St. Thomas Aquinas).
- Second, because the liturgical seasons of the Church are meant to initiate us annually into the mysteries of our redemption, they should also include some commemoration of nature for the simple reason that nature is the very thing which grace perfects.
- Another Roman variation of Embertides, instituted by Pope Gelasius I in 494, is to use Ember Saturdays as the day to confer Holy Orders.* Apostolic tradition prescribed that ordinations be preceded by fast and prayer (see Acts 13:3), and so it seemed quite reasonable to place ordinations at the end of this fast period. Moreover, this allows the entire community to join the men in fasting and praying for God’s blessing upon their calling and to share their joy in being called.
And Personally Prayerful
- In addition to commemorating the seasons of nature, each of the four Embertides takes on the character of the liturgical season in which it is located. In fact, the Ember Days add to our living out the times of the Church’s calendar. For example, Ember Wednesday of Advent (a.k.a the “Golden Mass”), commemorates the Annunciation while the Ember Friday two days later commemorates the Visitation, the only time in Advent when this is explicitly done.
- Embertides thus afford us the opportunity to ruminate on a number of important things: the wondrous cycle of nature and the more wondrous story of our redemption, the splendid differentiation of God’s ordained servants — and lastly, the condition of our own souls. Traditionally, these were times of spiritual exercises and personal self-examination, the ancient equivalent of our modern retreats and missions. Little wonder, then, that a host of customs and folklore grew up around them affirming the special character of these days.
Merciful God, heed us,
and reveal to our minds
the light of Thy grace:
through Our Lord…