The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger

The Ember Days of Pentecost

The Ember Days of Pentecost differ from the others in that they fall during a joyful Season of the Liturgical Year and during the Octave of the one of the most solemn Feasts of the year. The color of the vestments is red, as during the rest of the Pentecost Octave. The Gloria and Alleluia are heard during the Mass, and there is little of a penitential nature in the liturgy on these days. Nonetheless, Holy Mother Church prescribes a fast, as She does on the other Ember Days, with the special intention of obtaining from God’s mercy, that the grace given in the Sacrament of Holy Orders may fructify in those who receive it, and bring a blessing upon the faithful. We have already noted that the Ember Saturday of Advent was the preferred day for Ordinations in the early Church. With the passage of time, the Ember Saturday of Pentecost became the preferred day. Falling as it does between spring and summer, it was a most convenient time to bestow Holy Orders on those who had completed their Seminary or University studies. Also, the Sacrament of Holy Orders is one of the principal workings of the Holy Ghost; therefore, the Pentecost Octave is a most fitting time for the bestowal of this Sacrament. Still, the significance of these Ember Days is overshadowed by that of Pentecost, which is commemorated during the entire Octave. Ember Saturday brings to a close the Pentecost Octave (which began, as it were, on the Vigil) and, with it, the Paschal Season.

One of the principal mysteries of Pentecost is the birth of the Church. We have seen with what fidelity the Holy Ghost has fulfilled, during all these past ages, the mission He received from our Emmanuel, of forming, protecting, and maintaining His Bride the Church. This trust given by God has been executed with all the power of God, and it is the most sublime and wonderful spectacle the world has witnessed during the two millennia of the New Covenant. This continuance of a social Body, the same in all times and places; promulgating a precise Creed of Faith which each of Its members is bound to accept; producing by Its decisions the strictest unity of religious belief throughout the countless individuals who have composed the society: this, and the wonderful propagation of Christianity, are the master facts of history. These two facts are not, as certain modern writers would have it, results of the ordinary laws of Providence; but miracles of the highest order, worked directly by the Holy Ghost, and intended to serve as the basis of our Faith in the truth of the Christian Religion. The Holy Ghost was not, in the exercise of His mission, to assume a visible form; but He has made His presence visible to the understanding of man, and thereby He has sufficiently proved His own personal action in the work of man’s salvation.

Opening of the Vatican Council, 1868 Let us now follow this divine action, not in its carrying out the merciful designs of the Son of God, Who deigned to take to Himself a Bride here below, but in the relations of this Bride to mankind. Our Emmanuel willed that She should be the Mother of men; and that all whom He calls to the honor of becoming His own members, should acknowledge that it is She who gives them this glorious birth. The Holy Ghost, therefore, was to secure to this Bride of Jesus what would make Her evident and known to the world, leaving it, however, in the power of each individual to disown and reject Her.

It was necessary that this Church should last for all ages, and that She should traverse the earth in such wise that Her name and mission might be known to all nations; in a word, She was to be Catholic, that is, Universal, taking in all times and all places. Accordingly, the Holy Ghost made Her Catholic. He began by showing Her, on the day of Pentecost, to the Jews who had flocked to Jerusalem from the various nations; and when these returned to their respective countries, they took the good tidings with them. He then sent the Apostles and disciples into the whole world; and we learn from the writers of those early times, that a century had scarcely elapsed before there were Christians in every portion of the known earth. After that, the visibility of this Holy Church went on increasing gradually more and more. If the Divine Spirit, in the designs of His justice, permitted Her to lose Her influence in a nation that had made itself unworthy of the grace, He transferred Her to another where She would be obeyed. If, at times, there have been whole countries where She had no footing, it was either because She had previously offered Herself to them and they had rejected Her, or because the time marked by Providence for Her reigning there had not yet come. The history of the Church’s propagation is one long proof of Her perpetuity, and of Her frequent migrations. Times and places, all are Hers; if there be one wherein She is not acknowledged as supreme, She is at least represented by Her members; and this prerogative, which has given Her the name of Catholic, is one of the grandest workings of the Holy Ghost.

But His action does not stop here; the mission given Him by the Emmanuel in reference to His Bride obliges Him to something beyond this; and here we enter into the whole mystery of the Holy Ghost in the Church. We have seen His outward influence, whereby He gives Her perpetuity and increase; now we must attentively consider the inward direction She receives from Him, which gives Her unity, holiness, and apostolicity—prerogatives which, together with Catholicity, designate the true Bride of Christ.

The union of the Holy Ghost with the Humanity of Jesus is one of the fundamental truths of the mystery of the Incarnation. Our Divine Mediator is called Christ because of the anointing which He received (Ps. 44: 8); and His anointing results from the union of His Humanity with the Holy Ghost (Acts 10: 38). This union is indissoluble; the Word will be eternally united to His Humanity; eternally, also, will the Holy Ghost give to this Humanity the anointing which makes Christ. Hence it follows that the Church, being the Body of Christ, shares in the union existing between its Divine Head and the Holy Ghost. The Christian, too, receives in Baptism an anointing by the Holy Ghost, Who, from that time forward, dwells in him as the pledge of his eternal inheritance (Eph. 1: 14): but, whilst the Christian may by sin forfeit this union, which is the principle of his supernatural life, the Church Herself never can lose it. The Holy Ghost is united to the Church forever; it is by Him She exists, acts, and triumphs over all those difficulties, to which by the divine permission She is exposed while militant on earth.

The Church is the Body of Christ, and the Holy Ghost is the principle which gives Her life. He is Her soul, in that Her whole interior and exterior life, and all Her workings, proceed from Him. The Church is undying, because the love, which has led the Holy Ghost to dwell within Her, will last forever: and here we have the reason of that perpetuity of the Church, which is the most wonderful spectacle witnessed by the world.

Let us now pass on, and consider that other marvel, which consists in the preservation of unity in the Church. It is said of Her in the Canticle: "One is my dove; my perfect one is One" (Cant. 6: 8). Jesus would have but one, and not many, to be His Church, His Bride: the Holy Ghost will, therefore, see to the accomplishment of His wish. Let us respectfully follow Him in His workings here also. And firstly, is it possible, viewing the thing humanly, that a society should exist for two thousand years and never change? Nay, could it have continued all that time, even allowing it to have changed as often as you will? And during these long ages, this society has necessarily had to encounter, and from its own members, the tempests of human passions, which are ever showing themselves, and which not infrequently play havoc with the grandest institutions. It has always been composed of nations differing from each other in language, character, and customs; either so far apart as not to know each other, or, when neighbors, estranged one from the other by national jealousies and antipathies. And yet, notwithstanding all this—notwithstanding, too, the political revolutions which have made up the history of the world— the Catholic Church has maintained Her changeless unity: one Faith, one visible head, one worship (at least in the essentials), one mode of deciding every question, namely, by tradition and authority. Sects have risen up in every age, each sect giving itself out as the true Church: they lasted for a while, short or long according to the circumstances, and then were forgotten. Where are now the Arians with their strong political party? Where are the Nestorians, Eutychians, and Monothelites, with their interminable cavillings? Could anything be imagined more powerless and effete than the Greek schism, slave either to Sultan or Czar? What is there left of Jansenism, which wore itself away striving to keep in the Church in spite of the Church? As to Protestantism, the product of the principle of negation, was it not broken up into sections from its very beginning, so as never to be able to form one society? And is it not now reduced to such straits, that it can with difficulty retain dogmas, which, at first, it looked upon as fundamental, such as the inspiration of the Scriptures, or the Divinity of Christ?

Whilst all else is change and ruin, our Mother the Holy Catholic Church, the one Bride of the Emmanuel, stands forth grand and beautiful in Her unity. But how are we to account for it? Is it that Catholics are of one nature, and sectarians of another? Orthodox or heterodox, are we not all members of the same human race, subject to the same passions and errors? Whence do the children of the Catholic Church derive that stability, which is not affected by time, nor influenced by the variety of national character, nor shaken by those revolutions that have changed dynasties and countries? Only one reasonable explanation can be given: there is a Divine element in all this. The Holy Ghost, Who is the Soul of the Church, acts upon all the members; and as He Himself is One, He produces unity in the Body He animates. He cannot contradict Himself: nothing, therefore, subsists by Him, which is not in union with Him.

Council of Trent The Holy Ghost is the source of external union by voluntary submission to one center of unity. Jesus had said: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church" (Matt. 16: 18): now Peter was to die; the promise therefore could not refer to his person alone, but to the whole line of his successors, even to the end of the world. How stupendous is the action of the Holy Ghost, Who thus produces a dynasty of spiritual princes. No violence is offered to man’s free will; the Holy Ghost permits him to attempt what opposition he lists; but the work of God must go forward. A Diocletian may succeed in causing a four years’ vacancy in the See of Rome; antipopes may arise, supported by popular favor, or upheld by the policy of emperors; a long schism may render it difficult to know the real Pontiff among the several who claim it: the Holy Ghost will allow the trial to have its course, and, while it lasts, will keep up the faith of His children. The day will come when He will declare the lawful Pastor of the flock, and the whole Church will enthusiastically acknowledge him as such.

In order to understand the whole marvel of this supernatural influence, it is not enough to know the extrinsic results as told us by history; we must study it in its own divine reality. The unity of the Church is not like that which a conqueror forces upon a people that has become tributary to him. The members of the Church are united in oneness of Faith and submission, because they love the yoke She imposes on their freedom and their reason. But who is it, that thus brings human pride to obey? Who is it, that makes joy and contentment be felt in a life-long practice of subordination? Who is it that brings man to put his security and happiness in having no individual views of his own, and in conforming his judgment to one supreme teaching, even in matters where the world chafes at control? It is the Holy Ghost Who works this manifold and permanent miracle, for He it is Who gives soul and harmony to the vast aggregate of the Church, and sweetly infuses into all the faithful a union of heart and mind which forms for Our Lord Jesus Christ His one dear Bride.

During the days of His mortal life, Jesus prayed His Eternal Father to bless us with unity: "May they be one, as We also are" (John 17: 11). He prepares us for it, when He calls us to become His members; but, in order to achieve this union, He sends His Spirit into the world, that Spirit, Who is the eternal link between the Father and the Son, and Who deigns to accept a temporal mission among men, in order to create on the earth a union formed after the type of the union which is in God Himself.

We give Thee thanks, O Blessed Spirit, Who by dwelling thus within the Church of Christ, inspirest us to love and practice unity, and suffer every evil rather than break it. Strengthen it within us, and never permit us to deviate from it by even the slightest want of submission. Thou art the Soul of the Church; oh, grant us to be members ever docile to Thy inspirations, for we could not belong to Jesus Who sent Thee, unless we belong to the Church, His Bride and our Mother, whom He regenerated with His Blood, and gave to Thee to form and guide.

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