Friday 28 May 2010

The Ember Days, from the Golden Legend

Why do we fast at the Ember Days?

From The Golden Legend:

"The fasting of the Quatretemps, called in English Ember days, the Pope Calixtus ordained them. And this fast is kept four times in the year, and for divers reasons. For the first time, which is in March, is hot and moist. The second, in summer, is hot and dry. The third, in harvest, is cold and dry. The fourth in winter is cold and moist. Then let us fast in March which is printemps for to repress the heat of the flesh boiling, and to quench luxury or to temper it. In summer we ought to fast to the end that we chastise the burning and ardour of avarice. In harvest for to repress the drought of pride, and in winter for to chastise the coldness of untruth and of malice.

The second reason why we fast four times; for these fastings here begin in March in the first week of the Lent, to the end that vices wax dry in us, for they may not all be quenched; or because that we cast them away, and the boughs and herbs of virtues may grow in us. And in summer also, in the Whitsun week, for then cometh the Holy Ghost, and therefore we ought to be fervent and esprised in the love of the Holy Ghost. They be fasted also in September tofore Michaelmas, and these be the third fastings, because that in this time the fruits be gathered and we should render to God the fruits of good works. In December they be also, and they be the fourth fastings, and in this time the herbs die, and we ought to be mortified to the world.

The third reason is for to ensue the Jews. For the Jews fasted four times in the year, that is to wit, tofore Easter, tofore Whitsunside, tofore the setting of the tabernacle in the temple in September, and tofore the dedication of the temple in December.

The fourth reason is because the man is composed of four elements touching the body, and of three virtues or powers in his soul: that is to wit, the understanding, the will, and the mind. To this then that this fasting may attemper in us four times in the year, at each time we fast three days, to the end that the number of four may be reported to the body, and the number of three to the soul. These be the reasons of Master Beleth.

The fifth reason, as saith John Damascenus: in March and in printemps the blood groweth and augmenteth, and in summer coler, in September melancholy, and in winter phlegm. Then we fast in March for to attemper and depress the blood of concupiscence disordinate, for sanguine of his nature is full of fleshly concupiscence. In summer we fast because that coler should be lessened and refrained, of which cometh wrath. And then is he full naturally of ire. In harvest we fast for to refrain melancholy. The melancholious man naturally is cold, covetous and heavy. In winter we fast for to daunt and to make feeble the phlegm of lightness and forgetting, for such is he that is phlegmatic.

The sixth reason is for the printemps is likened to the air, the summer to fire, harvest to the earth, and the winter to water. Then we fast in March to the end that the air of pride be attempered to us. In summer the fire of concupiscence and of avarice. In September the earth of coldness and of the darkness of ignorance. In winter the water of lightness and inconstancy.

The seventh reason is because that March is reported to infancy, summer to youth, September to steadfast age and virtuous, and winter to ancienty or old age. We fast then in March that we may be in the infancy of innocency. In summer for to be young by virtue and constancy. In harvest that we may be ripe by attemperance. In winter that we may be ancient and old by prudence and honest life, or at least that we may be satisfied to God of that which in these four seasons we have offended him.

The eighth reason is of Master William of Auxerre. We fast, saith he, in these four times of the year to the end that we make amends for all that we have failed in all these four times, and they be done in three days each time, to the end that we satisfy in one day that which we have failed in a month; and that which is the fourth day, that is Wednesday, is the day in which our Lord was betrayed of Judas; and the Friday because our Lord was crucified; and the Saturday because he lay in the sepulchre, and the apostles were sore of heart and in great sorrow."

"The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints." Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275. First Edition Published 1470. Englished by William Caxton 1483.

Monday 24 May 2010

Whit Week

In the Roman rite, Whit week is celebrated with great solemnity. The feast of Pentecost, or Whit Sunday, is preceded by a vigil, rather like the vigil of Easter. Not only is the Sunday itself a double to the first class, but so are the Monday and Tuesday, making it in effect a three day festival, with the Golden Sequence 'Veni sancte spiritus' said or sung at each mass. The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are Ember days, where thanksgiving is offered for the first fruits of the harvest, and prayers are said for those who will receive minor or major orders on the Saturday.

From the Roman Martyrology

“In Rome, on the Appian Way, of St Tarsicius the Acolyte, whom the heathen found bearing the Sacrament of the Body of Christ, and asked what is was that he bore; but he deemed it an unworthy thing to cast pearls before swine, and was therefore assailed by them for a long time with sticks and stones, and gave up the ghost; and when his body was moved, the sacrilegious assailants could find nothing of Christ’s Sacrament in his hands or among his clothing; but the Christians gathered up the body of the martyr, and buried it with honour in the cemetery of Callistus.” Martyrologium Romanum, 15th August.

How to join


1. Full membership will be open to any Catholic boy or man who is able correctly and devoutly to serve low Mass in the traditional rite. Where applicants for membership are not known to the Secretary, a reference may be required to ensure that this condition is fulfilled.
2. Those not yet able to fulfil the requirement for full membership, but in training, may be admitted as probationary members.
3. Others who wish to may join as supporters.

The Society is also seeking to invite experienced servers to become MCs of the Society. These will be the liturgical "experts" of the Sodality, charged with upholding standards, assisting with training of other servers, and countersigning applications for membership. If you would like to nominate anyone for an invitation to become an MC, or volunteer yourself, then please contact the Secretary.

Although the Society has been inaugurated in England, members from other countries are equally welcome.

There is no fee or subscription for membership, though donations will be gratefully accepted.
Membership is on application to the Secretary.

Download a membership leaflet and application form here:

Saturday 22 May 2010

Prayer of the Society of St Tarcisius (for private use)

Lord Jesus, I profoundly adore Thee, really present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar. I love Thee, and desire to love and serve Thee more perfectly. I do reparation to Thy Sacred Heart, for the negligence and indifference which is often shown to Thy true Body and Blood.
I thank Thee for the great privilege of serving Thee on the Sanctuary, and resolve for the future to serve Thee with greater fervour, devotion, attention, and exactness. O Lord, let my example when on the Sanctuary never be an occasion for scandal to my neighbour, but rather encourage others to greater reverence. May I always act as I believe, and show by my example my belief in the great truths of our Faith.

Most Blessed Mary, Mother of our Lord, obtain for me by thy prayers the grace to serve thy Son with reverence and devotion.

Saint Tarcisius, pray for me, that I may follow thy example by defending the honour of the Blessed Sacrament all the days of my life and even unto death. Amen.

Objects of the Society

1. To promote the dignified, devout, and accurate service of the altar in the traditional Roman rite.
2. To promote the spiritual formation of altar servers, in the spirit of St Tarcisius, who accepted death rather than allow the profanation of the Most Holy Sacrament.
3. To disseminate information on the correct service of the altar, and arrange from time to time training events for servers.
4. To maintain a list of those who are willing and able to serve at the traditional liturgy, and provide this information to those organizing traditional events, where needed.

Launch of the Sodality

On Saturday 15th May 2010, at Blackfriars, Oxford, a newly founded Sodality of Servers of the traditional Latin mass (“extraordinary form”) was inaugurated. This took place in the context of a training day for experienced altar servers, arranged by the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, who were seeking to improve their understanding of the ceremonies of sung solemn mass. Thirty servers were present at the event, with the training being delivered by Fr Armand de Mallerey FSSP, Br Lawrence Lew OP, Mr David Forster, and Mr Richard Hawker.

The new Sodality has been founded at the request of numerous servers of the traditional Mass, who desired a society that would encourage them in their work on the altar, provide training for both new servers and the more experienced, promote a high standard of reverent and exact service, and form a network through which servers can stay in touch and share resources.

The Sodality is sponsored by the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, though membership is open to those from other countries who may wish. It has taken as its patron St Tarcisius, a Roman acolyte who was martyred during one of the fierce persecutions of the third century, while defending the Holy Eucharist from profanation. The Sodality has taken “Fidelis usque ad mortem” – Faithful even unto death – as its motto, and seeks to inculcate in servers an intense devotion and reverence to Our Lord in the Eucharist, as well as a precise attention to the ceremonies of Mass.

A website for the Society has been inaugurated – – where further details will be found. Anybody wishing to join the Sodality should contact the Secretary, Mr David Forster, at

Photographs of the training event on Saturday can be seen at