Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Quatuor Tempora

Today is the first of the three Ember Days for this quarter of the year. Ember Days are an almost-lost discipline of prayer and fasting on the traditional days of penance--Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday--at regular intervals through the year.
Ember days (corruption from Lat. Quatuor Tempora, four times) are the days at the beginning of the seasons ordered by the Church as days of fast and abstinence. They were definitely arranged and prescribed for the entire Church by Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) for the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after 13 December (S. Lucia), after Ash Wednesday, after Whitsunday, and after 14 September (Exaltation of the Cross). The purpose of their introduction, besides the general one intended by all prayer and fasting, was to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy.
Given that Texas is still experiencing severe drought conditions--the parts that aren't under water--Ember Days have continuing relevance. This might be a good week to pray for more rain, and less rain, and to perform acts of charity and bailout.

The etymology of the English term for the tempora is interesting. The OED surmises that the Anglo-Saxon ymbyre, meaning period or rotation of time, converged with the Latin tempora, meaning about the same thing, and buttresses the theory with the Old Swedish ymber-dagan for Ember Days.

The tempora occur in winter, in the week following St. Lucy's Day; in spring, after Ash Wednesday; in summer, after Pentecost Sunday; and in fall, after Holy Cross (which would be this week). A traditional handy mnemonic for remembering when the Ember Days cycle round:
Sant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia
Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria.
Catching little jingle, isn't it? Leaning here on my questionable Latin: "Holy Cross, Lucy, Ashes, Charismata Days/ That there may be following four holy days of obligation." Which really doesn't make a lot of sense.

Now the tempora used to have a much bigger profile as fast days went, being the last relic of the ancient tradition of observing not just Fridays, but Wednesdays and Saturdays as well, as days of fast and penance. The Portuguese came up with the marvelous custom of taking the fish and veggies permitted at your one evening meal, breading them, and deep frying them. Penitentially, of course. Missionaries took this tasty idea with them to Japan, and behold:Yum.

UPDATE: A commenter at New Liturgical Movement mentions the German mnemonic for the Ember Days:
Asche, Pfingsten, Kreuz, Luzei,
die Woch' danach Quatamber sei.
Also, the NLMers point out that, because Holy Cross was on a Sunday this year, for some obscure reason this means that the Ember Days for fall are on the week following the week after Holy Cross. Okay.

1 Comments:

Blogger Figulus said...

I think the mnemonic is "Dant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia / Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria", which means, Cross, Lucy, Ashes, and Divine Graces grant that the following Wednesday be "in angaria", i.e., do the job of a messenger.

11:14 AM  

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