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Ordination of a Priest, Saint Mary’s Seminary, Houston TX

Having already discussed the general origin and development of Ember Days in their context in the season of Advent, this article will consider the second set of Ember Days in the liturgical year, those of the first full week of Lent, as they appear in Divine Worship: The Missal.

History of the Ember Days in Lent

To begin we must look at the specific purpose of the Ember Days in the season of Lent. Dom Prosper Guéranger notes that, in common with those in December, these Ember Days are oriented toward the bestowal of holy orders that traditionally took place on Ember Saturday, just before the Second Sunday of Lent. He comments that they are also “to offer to God the season of spring, and, by fasting and prayer, to draw down His blessing upon it.” The context of the Ember Days within the season of Lent is in fact a later development. Marking the natural season, rather than the liturgical season, the Ember Days began as celebrations of the season of spring in the first week of March, and were only fixed to days in Lent by Pope Saint Gregory VII in the eleventh century. Archdale King notes that the Ember Days in general “appear at the first to have no fixed date, the Pope announced their celebration some time in advance.” More than that, Josef Jungmann states that the idea of holding Ember Days in spring at all was, in fact, a comparatively late addition, introduced only after the development of those in summer, autumn, and winter. He writes: “We say quattuor tempora, but the most ancient sources of the Roman liturgy speak only of three such times … The fourth place, in spring, remained free, because there was already the great season of Quadragesima.” According to Jungmann, the adoption of the fourth set of Ember Days, in spring at first and then later specifically in Lent, may have brought about the transferral of the Mass formulary for the Ember Days in December to Lent, and the composition of new texts for the Ember Days in December with, as he puts it, “an Advent character”—an hypothesis he draws from the history of ordination practices in Rome.

Cardinal Schuster has even less time for the Ember Days in Lent. He writes, “It seems quite superfluous to speak of Ember Days in Lent … either these Ember fast-days are a patchwork addition devoid of any particular significance, or else a place should be found for them apart from the paschal fast” However, he does concede that the tradition of ordinations during these days dates to at least the fifth century, under Pope Gelasius I, and that Ember Wednesday was used for the scrutinies of candidates for Holy Orders in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, at which there is a Lenten station on that day. Furthermore, on Ember Friday the second scrutiny of the ordinands would take place at Stational Mass at the Basilica of Santi Apostoli, invoking the “protection of the whole Apostolic College for those who continue their great mission upon earth.” The station on the Ember Saturday, at the Vatican Basilica, not only provided a fitting place for the rites of ordination, but also focussed on “the eminently Roman idea that every transmission of ecclesiastical power, through the conferring of one of the sacred orders, was derived from the supreme power of Peter.” Thus we can say that the principal character of the Ember Days is Lent is the proximate preparation of those designated to receive holy orders.

Ember Days in Lent in Divine Worship 

The propers and orations for the Ember Days in Lent follow, in Divine Worship, the pattern established in the pre-conciliar Missale Romanum and preserved for use in the Anglican missal tradition. The translations provided follow closely those found in the Anglican Missal and the English Missal, drawing (as elsewhere) on the Coverdale psalter as their primary English source. The Mass of Ember Wednesday takes the first collect from the Missale Romanum as the collect for the Mass. This is necessary because the Ember Days in Divine Worship do not permit the use of the extended cycle of readings found in the older use, with its additional collects, graduals, and even hymns. On Ember Saturday, the rubrics of the pre-conciliar Missale Romanum permit the use of a short form of the Ember Mass outside an actual ordination Mass or a conventual Mass. In this instance two collects alone are to be prayed: that also found in the 1961 Breviarum Romanum for the Ember Saturday in Lent (Populum tuum), and the final collect provided for the “vigil” of readings at Mass (Deus, qui tribus). In Divine Worship we find the oration Populum tuum on Ember Saturday from the Roman Breviary, together also with a collect for those to be ordained, and a collect for the choice of fit persons for the ordained ministry, both based on texts found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the Book of Divine Worship. The second and third collect may be prayed in place of that given for Ember Saturday, but only one collect may be prayed at any Mass (IGMR 54) On Ember Wednesday, by the same token, the collect from the Roman Breviary is provided (Preces nostras) in Divine Worship. Ember Friday does not provide for an extended vigil, and has only ever had a single collect, and that is also found in Divine Worship. The use of the breviary collect follows from the idea that the “vigil” traditionally associated with the Ember Days is not maintained in Divine Worship, but the Mass is still celebrated.

It is worth observing that Divine Worship: The Missal omits the Gradual for the Ember Wednesday of Lent and the Ember Saturday of Lent. This also appears to be based on the format of the short form of the Mass intended for Ember Saturday, though in celebrations according to the pre-conciliar Missale Romanum, the Gradual and the Tract would always both have been recited in this instance. We read in the Rubricæ Generales Missalis Romani (n. 468): “in other Masses, whether sung or read, the first oration is always said, which corresponds to the Office, with the Flectamus genua, if it is to be said, and the first reading with its verse [cum suis versibus…”. Again, the omission of this in Divine Worship flows from the notion that whilst the Ember Mass formulary is maintained, the associated “vigil” is not.


The maintenance of the Ember Days in Divine Worship: The Missal continues the ancient use of the Roman Rite in both the preservation of the liturgical texts themselves, and the promotion of the connection between the time of preparation for ordination and the ordination itself. It instills a liturgical heart to the ordination ceremony and places it in the context of the Church year, rather than reducing the celebration of the sacrament of holy orders to a merely convenient calendar appointment. This, rather than the natural season or even the liturgical season, is the primary characteristic of the Ember Days of Lent, in the ancient Roman liturgy, and so in the Anglican missals, and also in the Book of Common Prayer and the accompanying legislation of the Church of England (cf. 1604 Ecclesiastical Canons 31). The preservation of this within the Anglican liturgical patrimony, and its continuation in Divine Worship: The Missal, represents a further example of the great respect of the Catholic Church for those “features and elements that are representative of the historic Anglican Books of Common Prayer and Anglican Missals, in conformity with Catholic doctrinal and liturgical norms” now preserved in Divine Worship, and in the wider liturgical life of the personal ordinariates, such as the calendar (RD 6). Furthermore it enshrines and embodies the principle of the Anglican liturgical patrimony in the personal ordinariates, “understood as that which has nourished the Catholic faith throughout the history of the Anglican tradition and prompted aspirations towards ecclesial unity” (RD 3). In this way it elucidates the central principle of the liturgical provision of Anglicanorum cœtibus: “to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared” (AC III).

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