Restore the Ember Days
For the second time this week, we celebrated a special pre-dawn Advent Mass in candlelight. Having anticipated Matins last evening, we were able to begin Holy Mass at 5:15 a.m. We are mindful that the Ember Days are devoted to prayer and fasting for the sanctification of the clergy, in preparation for the ordinations that used to take place on Ember Saturday in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The observance of the Ember Days occurs four times yearly, once in each season. I would be happy to see the full restoration of the Ember Days, with the fasting and prayer for the clergy that characterizes them in response to the crisis that continues to afflict the bishops and priests of the Church. Would that this might be a fruit of the Year of the Priesthood!
Today, once again with a note of urgency, the Collect is addressed, not to the God the Father, but directly to Our Lord Jesus Christ. The very core of the prayer is the word, veni; the great Advent cry of the Church that we will be repeated this evening in Great O Antiphon.
Excita, quaesumus, Domine, potentiam tuam,
Stir up, Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord,
ut, hi qui in tua pietate confidunt,
ab omni citius adversitate liberentur.
that they who trust in Thy lovingkindness
may be the more speedily freed from all adversity.
The Collect alludes to two divine attributes of Our Lord. The first is His potentia, His power; the second is His pietas, His tender devotedness to those entrusted to Him by His Father. So rich a word is pietas in the liturgical vocabulary of the Church, that one can never really do justice to all the nuances of its meaning. Pietas is the dutiful and tender devotedness of a son to his father, and of a father to his son. When we speak of the pietas of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we refer to His entire devotedness to us or, if you will, to all that is symbolized by His Sacred Heart.
“I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)
After asking Our Lord to stir up His potentia and come, we ask that those who confide in His pietas (or in His Heart) might be delivered more speedily from all adversity, that is, from the things that fly against us as we make our way forward to greet Him at His blessed Advent. Trust in the tender devotedness of Our Lord for us is, in fact, the speediest way of being delivered from the things that come against us in daily life.
What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:31-37)
One of the most effective ways of growing in trust in the pietas of Our Lord is the frequent repetition of the “little invocation” that He gave Mother Yvonne-Aimée of Malestroit in 1922. Since then, the “little invocation” has transformed the lives of people all over the world: O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy loving mercy. It is another way of saying, “O Jesus, I trust in Thy divine pietas, in the tender devotedness of Thy Heart for me.” My experience is that such a prayer repeated with perseverance, and from the heart, leads to spiritual liberation and healing.
The prophet Isaiah presents the Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ, as the flower of the Root of Jesse upon whom rests the sevenfold gift of the Holy Ghost: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Our Lord is anointed with these gifts in superabundance. He is the Head of His Mystical Body, the Church, and from Him the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost are communicated to each of His members, to perfect in them the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity infused at Holy Baptism.
The Holy Ghost is wonderfully present in the liturgy of these final days of Advent. In fact, what Isaiah announces, is illustrated and fulfilled through Mary in today’s Gospel.
The Holy Gospel
This is the second great Marian Gospel of Ember Week in Advent. Energized by the Spirit of God, and bearing the Son of God hidden in her womb, Our Lady is, to use the expression of Pope John Paul II, “the first tabernacle of history.” The arrival of Mary in any situation signifies and obtains for us a fresh inbreaking of the Holy Ghost. Mary’s visible entrance into the house of Zachary is the “sacrament” of the Holy Spirit’s invisible entrance. No sooner does the Mother of God greet her cousin Elizabeth, than she is filled with the Holy Ghost. The little Forerunner, Saint John, concealed in the womb that many thought barren, attests to the sanctifying operation of the Holy Ghost with a little leap of joy.
Spend these last days before the Nativity of the Lord in the presence of His Virgin Mother. Where Mary is, there too is the Holy Ghost with His seven gifts: gifts in no way restricted to Pentecost, gifts wonderfully suited to a happy Christmas.