Holy Mother Knows Best
Thomas A. Droleskey
The traditional wisdom of Holy Mother Church through the centuries has seen to it that specific periods of penance are assigned at (or reasonably near) the beginning of the four seasons of nature in order to consecrate those seasons to God. Three days of the week--Wednesday, Friday, Saturday--are thus set aside as days of fast and abstinence. The abstinence from meat is partial on Wednesday and Saturday, total on Friday. Although these days of fast and abstinence are known by the Latin title of Quatour Tempora, they are more commonly called the Ember Days. Today, December 14, 2005, therefore, is Ember Wednesday in Advent.
Holy Mother Church has taught us traditionally, perennially that man, who is a fallen creature, is in need of performing external acts of penance and mortification to bridle his sinful tendencies and to rededicate himself anew to the task of rooting out all sin and vice from his life in cooperation with the graces won for us on the wood of the Holy Cross on Calvary by the shedding of every single drop of the Most Precious Blood of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Although we are called to live penitentially at all times in order to make reparation for our sins by offering up our prayers and sacrifices and mortifications to God through Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart as her consecrated slaves, the Church in her wisdom has known that we need special periods, such as Advent and Lent, and special days, such as the Ember and Rogation Days, to renew us in a spirit of prayer and penance.
We need specially dedicated periods of prayer and penance because our fallen natures are inclined to sloth. The weakness of the flesh works against the promptings of the Holy Ghost, inclining us not to pray, not to assist at Holy Mass, which is the perfect prayer, not to say the Rosary daily, not to read Sacred Scripture, not to do our spiritual reading, not to spend time in prayer before Our Lord's Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament. The descent of a soul into sloth, which is one of the seven deadly or capital sins, results eventually in the triumph of indifference about the necessity of prayer at all, leading people to commit the opposite but equally serious sins of either Presumption or Despair. Souls that are not used to the discipline of prayer and penance and mortification lose the ability to see the world clearly through the eyes of the true Faith, becoming more and more susceptible to viewing the world purely in naturalistic and materialistic terms, losing sight of the Last End for which they have been created to pursue: the possession of the Beatific Vision of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost for all eternity.
A soul who loves God as He has revealed Himself through His true Church seeks to perform extra penances each day in addition to those prescribed by the Church at specific times, such as Advent, Lent, and the Ember and Rogation Days. None of us knows the exact extent to which each one of our sins caused Our Lord to suffer in His Sacred Humanity during His fearful Passion and Death. None of us knows the exact amount of pain we caused to inflicted on the Immaculate Heart of Mary as she accompanied Our Lord throughout His Passion and Death. None of us knows precisely how responsible our sins are for the state of the Church Militant and of the world today. None of us knows how our sloth and distractions during prayer, including Holy Mass, have hindered the escape of some suffering soul from Purgatory. This is why we must be conscious of embracing whatever crosses come our way, doing so with joy, considering it a privilege, yes, a privilege to share in the redemptive work of the Divine Redeemer and in His Co-Redemptrix, His Most Blessed Mother. There is nothing that we are asked to suffer in this mortal vale of tears that is the equal of what one of our least venial sins caused Our Lord to suffer in His Sacred Humanity on Good Friday. There is thus no reason at all for any of us to complain about anything that befalls us in life. God is merciful. He only permits us to suffer as much as we are capable of enduring by means of His grace. And none of us suffers in this life as our sins truly deserve.
The Ember Days in Advent remind us that we must be purified more fully prior to the commemoration of Our Lord's Nativity in Bethlehem on Christmas Day. The gift of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity in the flesh as a newborn Babe requires us to render unto Him the gift of souls that are as free from stain of sin and as unspotted by any disordered attachments to the world as possible. We must truly yearn to be more and more united with Our Lord through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our sins weigh us down, inclining us to indulge our sense-pleasures and to become unwilling to render unto Our Lord that which is His due: the gift of an oblation of our entire selves, bodies and souls, to Him through His Most Blessed Mother's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. A more perfect observance of the spirit of penance each day of our lives, including those days of special penance prescribed by the law of the Church, will lead us to fast not only from bodily food but from vain talk, naturalism, materialism, and activities that are utter wastes of time (if not actually injurious to our souls). A soul fortified by prayer, penance, mortifications, and almsgiving will voluntarily renounce more and more pleasures and creature comforts so as to store up for himself inestimable treasures in Heaven for all eternity.
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., wrote the following about the Ember Days in Volume I of The Liturgical Year:
The intentions, which the Church has in the fast of the Ember days, are the same as those of the Synagogue; namely, to consecrate to God by penance the four seasons of the year. The Ember days of Advent are known, in ecclesiastical antiquity, as the fast of the tenth month; and St. Leo, in one of his sermons on the fast, of which the Church has inserted a passage in the second nocturn of the third Sunday of Advent, tells us that a special fast was fixed for this time of the year, because the fruits of the earth had been gathered in, and that it behooved Christians to testify their gratitude to God by a sacrifice of abstinence, thus rendering themselves more worthy to approach God, the more they were detached from the love of created things. 'For fasting,' adds the holy doctor, 'has ever been the nourishment of virtue. Abstinence is the source of chaste thoughts, of wise resolutions, and of salutary counsel. By voluntary mortifications, the flesh dies to its concupiscences, and the spirit if renewed in virtue. But since fasting alone is not sufficient whereby to secure the soul's salvation, let us add to it works of mercy towards the poor. Let us make that which we retrench from indulgence, serve unto the exercise of virtue. Let the abstinence of him that fasts, become the meal of the poor man.'
Let us, the children of the Church, practise what is in our power of these admonitions; and since the actual discipline of Advent is very mild, let us so much the more fervent in fulfilling the precept of the fast of the Ember-days. By these few exercises which which are now required of us, let us keep up within ourselves the zeal of our forefathers for this holy season of Advent. We must never forget that although the interior preparation is what is absolutely essential for our profiting by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, yet this preparation could scarcely be real unless it manifested itself by the exterior practices of religion and penance.
Contrast Dom Gueranger's eloquent summary of the necessity of external acts of penance to discipline the soul with the absolutely dismissive attitude of such external acts of penance founded in Paragraph 15 of the General Instruction to the Roman Missal (commented upon at length in G.I.R.M. Warfare):
"The same awareness of the present state of the world also influenced the use of texts from very ancient tradition. It seemed that this cherished treasure would not be harmed if some phrases were changed so that the style of language would be more in accord with the language of modern theology and would faithfully reflect the actual state of the Church's discipline. Thus there have been changes of some expressions bearing on the evaluation and use of the good things of the earth and of allusions to a particular form of outward penance belonging to another age in the history of the Church."
Who says that "outward penance" belongs "to another age in the history of the Church?" Holy Mother Church has taught us traditionally that fallen man's need for external acts of penance is a necessity that transcends any one particular time or place. Sin of its horrid nature demands as a matter of simple justice that we express our sorrow to God not only in the Sacrament of Penance but in accepting external acts of penance as the means by which we can scale the heights of sanctity with joy. Only those who are convinced of their own essential "goodness," possessed of the spirit of the so-called Enlightenment, of which Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a principal enthusiast, and/or those who do not want to do penance for their sins because they want to persist in those sins speak in such an absurd way as to dismiss "outward penance" as "belonging to another age in the history of the Church." Each man needs to discipline his soul by means of external acts of penance. Anyone who says otherwise is not thinking with the true mind of Holy Mother Church but is thinking with the mind of the devil himself, who seeks to convince us of our "essential goodness" so that we will be led by sloth and indifference to Hell for all eternity.
We must do penance for the postconciliar Church's contempt of the true mind of Holy Mother Church. We must pray that we are sent many holy priests to to conform themselves to the true mind of Holy Mother Church and to offer us what is our baptismal birthright at Roman Rite Catholics: unfettered access to the Immemorial Mass of Tradition, which expresses throughout its component parts man's constant need for penance and to beg God for his ineffable mercy on him for his sins. Indeed, Ember Saturday in Advent had long been the time for the ordination of candidates for Holy Orders. As Dom Gueranger noted:
The faithful should unite with the Church in this her intention, and offer to God their fasting and abstinence for the purpose of obtaining worthy ministers of the word and of the Sacraments, and true pastors of the people.
We must pray fervently for the complete restoration of the Mass that conveys fully and without equivocation the need of man to perform external acts of penance. After all, the God-Man offered Himself up to the Father in Spirit and in Truth on the wood of the Holy Cross to redeem us, suffering pains that only Our Lady and a handful of genuine mystics in the history of the Church have ever been able penetrate and to comprehend fully. We are not supposed to bear our share of the hardship which the Gospel entails? The Church is not supposed to impose penance upon us as our loving mater and magister? Nonsense. We need priests who adhere to the authentic Tradition of the Church, not make excuses for a revolution against that Tradition that has convinced sinful men that they can be content in their lives of spiritual sloth and still get home to Heaven safely.
With supplications offered to Our Lady during these Advent Ember Days, we undertake these days of prayer and penance and almsgiving in order that we may offer ourselves to her Divine Son on Christmas Day with hearts unsullied by the spirit of the world, the flesh, and the devil, hearts that beat fast in union with the her Immaculate Heart and the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, hearts that are prepared to suffer everything and everything for Love Incarnate, Love Crucified and Resurrected.
A continued blessed Advent to each of you, especially during these Ember Days.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint Lucy, pray for us.
Saint Philomena, pray for us.
Saint Bridget of Sweden, pray for us.
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, pray for us.
Blessed Jacinta, pray for us.
Blessed Francisco, pray for us.
Sister Lucia, pray for us.