Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Ember Wednesday - The Impression of the Stigmata of St. Francis

The feast of the Impression of the Stigmata of St. Francis falls this year on the Ember Wednesday of September. The feast is of double rite and began with first vespers. At vespers and at both Mattins and Lauds there is a special stroph in the Office hymns mentioning the holy wounds. At Mattins the lessons in the first nocturn are proper to the feast and in the third nocturn the ninth lesson is of the Ember Wednesday. At Lauds the Ember Wednesday is commemorated with its proper antiphon at the Benedictus and collect.

In Mass the Gloria is sung and the second collect is of the Ember Wednesday and the last Gospel is also that of the Ember Wednesday. 'Private' Masses may be of the Ember Wednesday which has its own proper texts that appear in the Roman Missal after the XVII Sunday after Pentecost. Immediately after the Kyrie the celebrant chants Oremus, the deacon Flectamus genua and the sub-deacon Levate. A collect (the one used if the Ember Wednesday is commemorated in a festal Mass) is followed by an OT reading from Amos and a Gradual. After that the normal Mass structure of collects, and pericopes follows. A commemoration of St. Francis' feast is made and, as there is no Gloria, Benedicamus Domino is sung as the dismissal. The deacon and sub-deacon do not wear dalmatic and tunicle as the ancient Roman practice of them wearing folded chasubles is followed for these Ember days. The ferial tone is used throughout for the collects and preface.

In Cathedral and Collegiate churches two Masses are celebrated: in the Ember Wednesday Mass (sung after None) the second collect is A cunctis and the third of the choosing of the celebrant (or Dean).

The traditional arrangement of the Ember Days is an ancient feature of Western liturgy. An English rhyme runs:

"Fasting days and Emberings be
Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie."

The September Ember Days fall in the third week of September and always are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Holyrood in the rhyme). One of the many novelties contained in the '1962 liturgical books' was a new way of counting Sundays that meant that the September Ember days no longer necessarily fall on their traditonal days as is the case this year. Characteristically too there was an unprecedented 'mini-Ember Day' rite optionally reducing the number of ancient lessons (c.f. Holy Saturday) and the structure of the Saturday Ember Day. In addition the ancient practice of using folded chasubles was dropped and the sub-deacon's role curtailed by having the deacon chant Levate.

Vespers are of the following feast of St. Joseph of Cupertino with a commemortion of St. Francis' feast. The Ember day is not commemorated. In contrast the 1962 rite has created a Vespers for Ember days and so the antiphon at the Benedictus from Lauds is used as an antiphon at the Magnifcat at Vespers - most bizzare!

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