14 SUNDAY, 3rd Sunday of Advent, semidouble. Violet. Vespers of the Octave of the Immaculate Conception (the First Vespers of the Feast are used) with commemoration of Sunday. White. [In diocese of Hexham and Newcastle Plenary Indulgence.]
15 Monday, The Octave of the Immaculate Conception, double. White.
16 Tuesday, St Eusebius, Bishop Martyr, semidouble. Second prayers of 3rd Sunday of Advent, third prayers of the BVM. Red.
17 Ember-Wednesday, feria. Second prayers for the dead (Fidelium), third prayers of the BVM. Violet. FAST.
18 Thursday, The Expectation of the BVM, greater double. Creed. Preface of the BVM. White. Plenary Indulgence.
19 Ember-Friday, feria. Second prayers for the dead (Fidelium), third prayers of the BVM. Violet. FAST.
20 Ember-Saturday, Vigil of St Thomas Apostle. Mass of Ember-day. Second prayers of Vigil, third prayers of the BVM. Violet. FAST.
It is instructive that as we go into the third Sunday of Lent there is no mention of rose coloured vestments, of flowers being allowed on the altar, or any other of the small signs which would be indicated rubrically a century later. This is because the ornate Italianate style is still a novelty, indeed a dangerous novelty in the eyes of many, and most priests would still be suspicious of it.
This is an Ember Week, one of four weeks in the year where the faithful fast and implore blessings of God in the new season. Fasting should also prepare by penance those who are about to be ordained, because ordinations would normally take place on the Ember Days. Our fasting will help us pray more reverently for good priests.
We celebrate the Octave of the Immaculate Conception from first Vespers on Sunday until the end of Monday: this means that there are liturgical prayers to Our Lady every day this week, and two feasts: the Octave, and, on Thursday, a week before the feast of Christ's birth, we celebrate the Expectation of the BVM.
This is one of the most affecting and human feasts of the year. It is hard to imagine a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, who cannot sympathise with the discomfort of a mother a week away from giving birth, especially a mother who is journeying and who has nothing to sustain her but the love of her husband and the promise made to her by an archangel nearly nine months previously. The Mass is Rorate, except for the last verse of the Gradual, which is "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son, Jesus Christ, Alleluia".
This feast is celebrated pretty well everywhere, but an American visitor to England and Wales might have felt the lack of Wednesday's feast of St Lazarus Born Again to Life, which was particular (in the English-speaking world at least) to the United States. I can't help feeling that the American dioceses are on to something here, much as the diocese of Salford's celebration of the feast of the Good Thief struck me as being particularly apposite.
Finally, on Saturday, we will celebrate the Vigil of St Thomas the Apostle (though for the third Sunday in a row the Sunday of Advent displaces the feast itself). Because it is an Ember-day, the Vigil is only commemorated. There are five collects, lessons and graduals (and a hymn) which are proper to this Ember-Saturday, and precede the prayers listed above.
Ember Days are ancient: they date from the time of (if not personally from) Pope Callistus (217-223) and were probably instituted as Christian alternatives to the seasonal agricultural festivals celebrated by pagans. For some centuries they were observed only in Rome, but came to England with St Augustine, and were then taken by Anglo-Saxon missionaries to Germany and Gaul in the eighth and ninth centuries, from where they spread to Spain only in the tenth and eleventh centuries: they never were adopted in the East. The celebration of all of the propers of Ember-Saturday seems to have become optional during the reforms of either Pius XII or John XXIII.
According to Bugnini: "The Ember Days are to be celebrated at times and on days to be determined by the episcopal conferences, provided that that they are in harmony with the seasons and thus truly correspond to the purposes for which they are established." Pope Paul VI insisted that prayers for vocations to the priesthood should be part of the replacement. It is sad that 1750 years of tradition could have been tossed aside, unnoticed, such that few Catholics under the age of sixty will have any idea what the term "Ember Days" refers to. I have no idea when the "not Ember Days" are celebrated in England and Wales: surely nobody was so cloth-earedly aliturgically illiterate as to offer us Family Fast Days in their place? That CAFOD rather than vocations should become their object? Surely, surely, not!
The Immaculate Conception, Hagley Road, Edgbaston, in Birmingham, is served by the Fathers of the Oratory of St Philip Neri. The Very Rev John Henry Newman DD is Father Superior, and the Rev Fathers Ambrose St John, H Austin Mills, Henry Bittleston, Edward Caswall and William Payne Neville serve as priests. Masses on Sunday are at 7.00, 8.00, 9.00, and 10.00, with High Mass at 11.00. Benediction is celebrated twice, at 4.00 and 8.00 pm. I imagine they used rose-coloured vestments on the Third Sunday.