On Observing the Ember Week Fasts
Today the Church begins the Fast of the Four Seasons, “Quatuor Tempora,” or as we call it, of the Ember Days, which includes also the Friday and Saturday of this same week.
This observance of fasting has been fixed for each of the four seasons of the Ecclesiastical Year, a practice which the Church took from the Synagogue, dating back to Apostolic times.
The intentions which the Church has in the fast and abstinence of the Ember Days are to consecrate to God by penance the four Seasons of the year, and (in view of the ordinations which will take place on the Saturday of these weeks) to obtain worthy ministers of the Church who will be true pastors of the people.
By this fast of the Ember Days, 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.
St. Leo, in one of his sermons on this Fast, tells us that a special fast was fixed for this time of the year, because the fruits of the earth had then all 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.”
St. Leo continues: “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 is 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.”