Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Gaudete Sunday (3rd Sunday of Advent) are known as “Advent Embertide,” and they come near the beginning of the Season of Winter (December, January, February). Liturgically, the readings for the days’ Masses follow along with the general themes of Advent, opening up with Wednesday’s Introit of Isaias 45: 8 and Psalm 18:2 :
Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior. The heavens show forth the glory of God: and the firmament declareth the work of His hands.
Wednesday’s and Saturday’s Masses will include one and four Lessons, respectively, with all of them concerning the words of the Prophet Isaias except for the last lesson on Saturday, which comes from Daniel and recounts how Sidrach, Misach, and Abdenago are saved from King Nabuchodonosor’s fiery furnace by an angel. This account, which is followed by a glorious hymn, is common to all Embertide Saturdays but for Whit Embertide. (1)
Four times a year, the Church sets aside three days to focus on God through His marvelous creation. These quarterly periods take place around the beginnings of the four natural seasons 1 that “like some virgins dancing in a circle, succeed one another with the happiest harmony,” as St. John Chrysostom wrote (see Readings below).
These four times are each kept on a successive Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday and are known as “Ember Days,” or Quatuor Tempora, in Latin. The first of these four times comes in Winter, after the the Feast of St. Lucy; the second comes in Spring, the week after Ash Wednesday; the third comes in Summer, after Pentecost Sunday; and the last comes in Autumn, after Holy Cross Day.
Their dates can be remembered by this old mnemonic:
Sant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria.
Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost, are when the quarter holidays follow.
What the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception means is that from the first moment of her conception, God, foreseeing and anticipating the merits of Jesus’s passion and death, and knowing Mary would say “yes” to becoming the Mother of the Saviour, filled her with grace, and preserved her free from all stain of original sin. The Church assumes Mary herself was conceived in the normal way through loving intercourse of her father Joachim with her mother Anne. The date of the solemnity is co-ordinated with that of Mary’s Nativity on 8th September (nine months later).
Immaculate Mary, your praiseswe sing, You reign now in splendor with Jesus our King. Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! In Heaven the Blessed your glory proclaim, On earth we your children invoke your sweet name. Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!
We pray for the Church, our true mother on earth And bless, Holy Mary, the land of our birth. Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger:
At length, on the distant horizon, rises, with a soft and radiant light, the aurora of the Sun which has been so long desired. The happy Mother of the Messias was to be born before the Messias Himself; and this is the day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The earth already possesses a first pledge of the divine mercy; the Son of Man is near at hand. Two true Israelites, Joachim and Anne, noble branches of the family of David, find their union, after a long barrenness, made fruitful by the divine omnipotence. Glory be to God, Who has been mindful of His promises, and Who deigns to announce, from the high heavens, the end of the deluge of iniquity, by sending upon the earth the sweet white dove that bears the tidings of peace!
The Feast of the Blessed Virgin’s Immaculate Conception is the most solemn of all those which the Church celebrates during the holy Season of Advent; and if the first part of the cycle had to offer us the commemoration of some one of the mysteries of Mary, there was none whose object could better harmonize with the spirit of the Church in this mystic season of expectation. Let us, then, celebrate this solemnity with joy; for the Immaculate Conception of Mary tells us that the Birth of Jesus is not far off.
From THE LITURGICAL YEAR, Book 1, Advent LORETO PUBLISHING Dom Guéranger OSB First Translation: 1867
The name Advent [from the Latin word Adventus, which signifies a coming] is applied, in the Latin Church, to that period of the year, during which the Church requires the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the feast of Christmas, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. The mystery of that great day had every right to the honour of being prepared for by prayer and works of penance; and, in fact, it is impossible to state, with any certainty, when this season of preparation [which had long been observed before receiving its present name of Advent] was first instituted. It would seem, however, that its observance first began in the west, since it is evident that Advent could not have been looked on as a preparation for the feast of Christmas, until that feast was definitively fixed to the twenty-fifth of December; which was done in the east only towards the close of the fourth century; whereas it is certain that the Church of Rome kept the feast on that day at a much earlier period.
We must look upon Advent in two different lights: first, as a time of preparation, properly so called, for the birth of our Saviour, by works of penance; and secondly, as a series of ecclesiastical Offices drawn up for the same purpose. We find, as far back as the fifth century, the custom of giving exhortations to the people in order to prepare them for the feast of Christmas. We have two sermons of Saint Maximus of Turin on this subject, not to speak of several others which were formerly attributed to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, but which were probably written by St. Cesarius of ArIes. If these documents do not tell us what was the duration and what the exercises of this holy season, they at least show us how ancient was the practice of distinguishing the time of Advent by special sermons. Saint Ivo of Chartres, St. Bernard, and several other doctors of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, have left us set sermons de Adventu Domini, quite distinct from their Sunday homilies on the Gospels of that season. In the capitularia of Charles the Bald, in 846, the bishops admonish that prince not to call them away from their Churches during Lent or Advent, under pretext of affairs of the State or the necessities of war, seeing that they have special duties to fulfill, and particularly that of preaching during those sacred times.