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Elijah in the Desert – Washington Allston, 1818Wikimedia Commons

(LifeSiteNews) — The fast of today is prescribed by a double law: it is Lent, and it is Ember Wednesday. It is the same with the Friday and Saturday of this week.

There are two principal objects for the Ember days of this period of the year: the first is to offer up to God the season of spring, and by fasting and prayer, to draw down his blessing upon it; the second is to ask him to enrich with his choicest graces the priests and sacred Ministers who are to receive their ordination on Saturday.

Let us, therefore, have a great respect for these three days; and let those who violate, upon them, the laws of fasting or abstinence, know that they commit a two-fold sin.

Up to the 11th century, the Ember Days of spring were kept in the first week of March; and those of summer, in the second week of June. It was St. Gregory VII who fixed them as we now have them; that is, the Ember Days of spring in the first week of Lent, and those of summer in Whitsun week.

The station for today is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. Let us honor the Mother of God, the Refuge of Sinners; and let us ask her to present to our Divine Judge the humble tribute of our penance.


We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to regard the devotion of thy people; that mortifying their bodies by fasting, their minds may be refreshed by good works. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle of the Mass for all the Ember Wednesdays consists of two Lessons from Sacred Scripture. Today the Church brings before us the two great types of Lent – Moses and Elias –in order to impress us with an idea of the importance of this forty days’ fast, which Christ himself solemnly consecrated when he observed it, and thus fulfilled, in his own person, what the law and the prophets had but prefigured.


Lesson from the book of Exodus 24:12-18

In those days: the Lord said to Moses: Come up to me into the mount, and be there; and I will give thee tables of stone, and the law, and the commandments which I have written, that thou mayest teach them. Moses rose up, and his minister Josue; and Moses going up into the mount of God, said to the ancients: Wait ye here till we return to you, you have Aaron and Hur with you: if any question shall rise, you shall refer it to them. And when Moses has gone up, a cloud covered the mount. And the glory of the Lord dwelt upon Sinai, covering it with a cloud six days, and the seventh day he called him out of the midst of the cloud. And the sight of the glory of the Lord, was like a burning fire upon the top of the mount, in the eyes of the children of Israel. And Moses entering into the midst of the cloud, went up into the mountain; and he was there forty days and forty nights.


Lesson from the Book of 3rd Kings 19:3-8 (1 Kings 19:3-8)

In those days: Elias came into Bersabee of Juda, and left his servants there. And he went forward one day’s journey into the desert. And when he was there, and sat under a juniper tree, he requested for his soul that he might die, and said: It is enough for me, Lord; take away my soul, for I am no better than my fathers. And he cast himself down, and slept in the shadow of the juniper tree; and behold an Angel of the Lord touched him, and said to him: Arise and eat. And he looked, and behold there was at his head a hearth-cake and a vessel of water; and he ate and drank, and he fell asleep again. And the Angel of the Lord came again the second time and touched him, and said to him: Arise, eat; for thou hast yet a great way to go. And he arose, and ate, and drank, and walked in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights, unto Horeb, the mount of God.

Moses and Elias fast for forty days and forty nights, because God bids them come near to him. Man must purify himself, he must unburden himself, in some measure at least, of the body which weighs him down, if he would enter into communication with Him who is the Spirit. And yet the vision of God, granted to these two holy personages, was very imperfect: they felt that God was near them, but they beheld not his glory. But when the fullness of time came,  (Galatians 4:4) God manifested himself in the flesh; and man saw, and heard, and touched him. (1 John 1:1)

We, indeed, are not of the number of those favored ones who lived with Jesus, the Word of Life; but in the Holy Eucharist he allows us to do more than see: he enters into our breasts, he is our food. The humblest member of the Church possesses God more fully than either Moses on Sinaï, or Elias on Horeb. We cannot, therefore, be surprised that the Church – in order to fit us for this favor, at the Easter Solemnity – bids us go through a preparation of forty days, though its severity is not to be compared with the rigid fast which Moses and Elias had to observe, as the condition of their receiving what God promised them.


Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Matthew 12:38-50

At that time: Some of the Scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying: Master we would see a sign from thee. Who answering said to them: An evil and adulterous generation seeketh for a sign; and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was in the whale’s belly three days and three nights, so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, because they did penance at the preaching of Jonas; and behold a greater than Jonas here. The queen of the south shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold a greater than Solomon here. When an unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith: I will return into my house, from whence I came out. And coming, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there; and the last state of that man is made worse than the first. So shall it be also to this wicked generation. As he was yet speaking to the multitudes, behold his Mother and his brethren stood without, seeking to speak to him. And one said unto him: Behold thy Mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking thee. But he answering him that told him, said: Who is my mother, and who are my brethren? And stretching forth his hand towards his disciples, he said: Behold my mother and my brethren; for whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.

Our Lord forewarns Israel of the chastisements which its voluntary blindness and hardness of heart will bring upon it. The men of Israel refuse to believe, unless they see signs and prodigies; they have them in abundance, but will not see them. Such are the unbelievers of the present day.

They say they want proofs of the divine origin of the Catholic Religion. What is History, but a tissue of proof? what are the events of the present age, but testimony of the truth? And yet they remain incredulous. They have their own views and prejudices, and they intend to keep to them; how, then, can it be wondered at that they never embrace the true Faith? Infidels, who have not had the like opportunities, will rise in judgment with such a generation and condemn it for its resistance to grace.

Let us Catholics remember that amidst the great religious movement which is now going on, it is our duty to be not only most firm in our faith, but also most zealous in the observance of the laws of the Church, such, for example, as Lent. The apostolate of example will produce its fruits; and if a mere handful of Christians was, to the Roman Empire, like that leaven of which our Savior speaks, (Matthew 13:31-35) and which leavened the whole mass; what results may we not expect in a country like our own (which has retained so much Catholic practice and doctrine) if the Catholics themselves were but zealous in the exercise of their duties?

Bow down your heads to God.

Enlighten, we beseech thee, Lord, our minds with the light of thy brightness, that we may discern what is to be done and be able to do it. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

We take the following devout stanzas on fasting from the Triodion of the Greek Church.


Wonderful is the armor of Prayer and Fasting! With it, Moses became a legislator, and Elias a zealous priest. Let us, O ye Faithful! resolutely take it unto ourselves, and cry out to our Savior: To thee alone have we sinned; have mercy on us!

Let us fast a spiritual fast, break all the snares of the serpent, shun the wickedness of evil example, and forgive our brethren their offences against us, that our own sins may be forgiven; for thus shall we be able to say: May our prayer, Lord, be directed as incense in thy sight!

O thou that alone art Good! O fount of mercy! O Lamb of God, who, being thyself God, takest away the sins of the world! I am tossed by the storms of sin; save me, and lead me to the paths of penance.

The true fast is fleeing from sin, turning away from evil affections, love of God, earnest prayer, tears of compunction, and charity towards the poor, as Christ teaches us in the Scripture.

My soul is pierced with the sword of sin, and is mangled by manifold crimes: heal it, O thou kind Physician of souls! Apply unto me, O merciful Jesus, the remedy of thy all-wise commandments.

Now is the time for compunction, for it is the time of the Fast; let us earnestly give ourselves to tears and sighs, and stretch forth our hands to our only Redeemer, beseeching him to unfetter our souls.

Give me the grace, O my good Jesus! to stifle all my wicked affections, to be filled with the love of thee, to be rich in divine gifts, and to serve thee with all devotedness.

Take heed, my soul, lest, while fasting, thou be guilty of the gluttony of injuring and hating thy neighbor, and quarrelling with him; and thus lose thy God, by thy negligence.

How shall I be able, O my Jesus, to endure thy wrath, when thou comest to judge me? What answer shall I then make unto thee, if now I refuse to fulfill thy just commands? O pardon me, before my departure hence.

Liberate my soul, O Lord, from the tyranny of my passions, that I may enjoy the freedom of doing thy will, and give glory to thy power, for eternity.

Hate, O my soul, the intemperance of Esau, and imitate the holy Jacob; destroy Belial by abstinence, make treasure to thyself of divine riches, and let the praise of God be forever on thy lips.

Grant unto us, O merciful Savior, that we may traverse the sea of our Fast unmolested by storms; and that we, who are ever celebrating thy praise, may be brought to the heaven of thy Resurrection.

This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Guéranger (1841-1875). LifeSiteNews is grateful to The Ecu-Men website for making this classic work easily available online.