Ember Days in the EF and OF

A few days ago was the Ember Wednesday of Lent. I happened to say two Masses on that day— one in the “extraordinary form” (1962 Missal), and one according to “ordinary form” (German translation of 1974). It is sometimes claimed that the ember days were “suppressed” in the OF, thus Michael P. Foley recounts hearing a priest who was “furious” at their suppression. But this is not quite true, as Foley points out, the “time and plan” for the celebration of ember days has been left to conferences of bishops, in order to adapt them to local conditions. In many parts of the world the bishops never determined the time and plan of the ember days (Foley does not know of any), and thus in many parts of the world they have been practically suppressed.

In Austria, however, the bishops have determined the dates of the ember days. And in Lent they correspond to the ember days on the old calendar. But there is a great contrast between their celebration according to the old and new missals. There is something splendidly mysterious about the old ember-day liturgies: the extra readings and orations, the flectamus genua etc. But in the new Missal none of these archaic elements survive. There are orations for “Ember week in Lent” in the German Missal, but as far as I can see they are meant simply to replace the orations of the day— so that there is no addition of prayers. That is typical for the style of the newer use, which tries to avoid “useless repetition” etc.

The liturgical propers for the ember days being so spare in the Missal, the Austrian bishops have attempted to mark them by what they call “themes.” There are general themes that are observed every year (in Lent the theme is “bread for all people”). But then they positively encourage the integration of what they call aktuelle Anliegen (current concerns):

Current concerns, whether taken up at a pan-Austrian, diocesan, or parish level, should, if possible, be integrated into the thematically suitable ember week, in order to disencumber the rest of the Church Year.

How exactly are these themes to be integrated into ember week? One method is by extra-liturgical activities such as gathering food for the hungry etc., or in para-liturgical ceremonies. But the odd reference to “disencumbering the rest of the Church Year,” suggests to my mind that they are thinking “theme liturgies”— the delight of progressive Austrian pastoral assistants and planners.

Such celebrations point to a great weakness of the newer use of the Roman Rite. One of the (many) reasons why people are so apt to make additions to the liturgical rites (whether spontaneous or planned), is that the rites themselves have been so much trimmed down in the name of noble simplicity. The average parish not having much use for ascetic simplicity— they add things according to their own taste. But such additions are very unlikely to be either as noble in themselves, or as consonant with the spirit of the liturgy, as the ancient accretions that were stripped away in the first place. I am reminded of something the modernist church architect in  Graham Greene’s Burnt-Out Case says:

But people hated [my churches]. They said they weren’t designed for prayer. They meant that they were not Roman or Gothic or Byzantine. And in a year they had cluttered them up with their cheap plaster saints; they took out my plain windows and put in stained glass dedicated to dead pork-packers who had contributed to diocesan funds, and when they had destroyed my space and my light, they were able to pray again, and they even became proud of what they had spoilt. I became what they called a great Catholic architect, but I built no more churches, doctor.’ (p. 45)

Much could be said to elaborate the analogy mondernist architecture: Romanesque or Byzantine or Gothic:: OF : EF. None of which will be said in this post. Except to point out something that I have argued before: ascetic austerity even in architecture can be a good thing, but that their is a great difference between (say) the austerity of early Cistercian architecture and the austerity of modernism.

3 thoughts on “Ember Days in the EF and OF

  1. Dear Father Edmund,

    thank you for your post. Some xtra arguments for the eo-form-“grown not made”.

    But to be honest (it´s not your fault^^) : I think Heiligenkreuz also has missed to build “modern” churches as places of prayer. The two modern chruches in the town seem to be more practical. I prefer sitting in the cold abbey church for prayer then in the warm but not very “sacred” Kreuzkirche. We better don´t speak about the arrangement of the holy relic in the Kreuzzkirche, which reminds me of batman. In my opinion the orthodox and some uniate churches (but not all-see the new ukranian-catholic patriarchal cathedral) have kept a sense for the sacred. And not to forget the FSSPX, although I don´t think, that we have to copy stiles of a certain time-this is not authentic. But look at Clear Creek. In my opinion a important factor which makes a room a sacred space is a apse (although the cirstercian architecture has no round apse).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Our archbishop (Portland in Oregon in the US) decrees three Ember Days annually (Advent more or less, Lent, and have forgotten when the third occurs), I believe; there’s a notice in the ‘official acts’ section of the diocesan newspaper, although I’ve never heard of such a thing at the parish. Sigh. Still, a not meaningless gesture toward continuity in Tradition.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Link Roundup: Feb. 28, 2016 | Semiduplex

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